WASHINGTON, June 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Interior has approved the first utility-scale solar energy project for development on American Indian tribal lands.
The 350-megawatt K Road Moapa Solar project will be in Clark County, Nev., about 35 miles north of Las Vegas on tribal trust land of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians.
"This trailblazing project is part of the president's commitment to help build strong, sustainable tribal communities by supporting safe and responsible renewable energy development," U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a statement.
The facility will cover about 2,000 acres -- about 3 percent -- of the tribe's 71,954 acres, which are held by the U.S. government.
"Tribal lands hold great renewable energy potential and smart development of these resources has the power to strengthen tribal economies, create jobs and generate clean electricity for communities across Indian Country," Salazar said.
Interior says the project is expected to generate about 400 construction jobs and up to 20 permanent jobs.
Until 2009, solar energy projects weren't permitted on public lands, Interior says. As part of its effort to accelerate renewable energy on the nation's public lands, the department has since approved 30 other utility-scale renewable energy projects: 15 solar projects, six wind farms and eight geothermal plants.
If all the projects proceed, Interior says they will provide about a total of 7,200 megawatts of power in the western United States, enough to power almost 2.5 million homes.
In May Salazar inaugurated the first large solar project to begin operating on public lands, the 50-megawatt Enbridge Silver State North Solar Project in Primm, Nev., 40 miles south of Las Vegas.
"As our nation's energy portfolio continues to grow, it is important that tribal communities have the opportunity to harness the energy of the wind and sun in a way that can power our homes, businesses and economies," said Donald Laverdure, acting assistant secretary of Indian Affairs.
Nevada's current standard requires utilities to generate 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025, with 6 percent to come from solar energy by 2016.
The project was proposed by New York independent power developer K Road Power, currently developing more than 2,300 MW of solar PV projects most of which are on land leased from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management or on American Indian reservations.