Buffett firm eyes tribal project

NV Energy, part of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway holding company, is seeking regulatory approval in Nevada to buy the second US largest solar project to be located on tribal trust lands.

Construction of the 200MW (AC) PV project on the Moapa River Indian Reservation northeast of Las Vegas would begin after expected fourth quarter approval by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada of the proposed purchase, and completion of final contracts.

Moapa Band of Paiutes acting chairman Greg Anderson tells Recharge the tribe hopes to have the project in fully commercial operation in 2016. It will be sited on land leased by the tribe which has about 400 members on the reservation.

RES Americas will develop and construct the project, which the federal government greenlighted last month.

The future acquisition is part of a comprehensive power generation plan for southern Nevada that NV Energy filed with the commission. It implements the goals of landmark Senate Bill 123 passed a year ago by the state legislature which mandates a shift from coal-fired electricity and investment by utilities to renewable energy and natural gas.

Signed into law by Governor Brian Sandoval, it directs NV Energy to remove 800MW of coal-fired power generation from its portfolio. It also requires 350MW of renewable energy development.

To partly meet the mandate, NV Energy this year plans to retire its Reid Gardner coal-fired units 1, 2 and 3 adjacent to the Moapa reservation – a total 342MW - and the 270MW unit 4 in 2017. The first three units came online in the 1960s and 1970s.

“This resource plan is very cost competitive and will move NV Energy toward a more balanced and less carbon intense power generation portfolio while creating significant economic benefits for Nevada,” says Paul Caudill, NV Energy president, who formerly headed Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s solar unit.

Berkshire’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company (MEHC) last December acquired NV Energy for $5.6bn. MHEC chief executive Greg Abel, who proposed the deal to Buffett, believes Berkshire can use its expertise and checkbook to help develop Nevada’s vast solar potential.

He quickly named Caudill to the top spot at the utility who, in turn, brought in Stacey Kusters as the new vice president of renewable energy and origination. She was formerly an executive at PacifiCorp, a utility holding company owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

MEHC in April changed its name to Berkshire Hathaway Energy. The parent company owns 89.8% of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which is investing $13bn in renewables and is the country’s second largest

NV Energy also wants approval to acquire a 15MW (AC) PV array to be built at Nellis Air Force base outside Las Vegas.

As part of its plant, the utility is seeking permission to begin permitting up to 4,000 acres of land adjacent to its Harry Allen Generating Station north of Las Vegas for solar development.  It wants to issue competitive solicitations for three separate 100MW renewable energy proposals, one each in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The tribe is also leasing land on their reservation for the 250MW (AC) Moapa Southern Paiute project that First Solar acquired last year from Barclays Capital-backed developer K Road. Construction has begun and is scheduled for 2015 completion, according to the tribe’s Anderson.