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Fed Funds Could Move Solar Proj. Forward

By Rebekah Morris for AZ Builder’s Exchange

Last week the Trump Administration followed up on a campaign promise to announce investments in infrastructure.

A couple days later, two different lists of potential projects surfaced (here, and here).  Naturally we look for the Arizona line items.  Only one project makes the list – a $380M Fort Mojave Solar Project.

This project will be developed by Tribal Solar, a wholly owned subsidiary of First Solar in Tempe, in conjunction with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  The plan is for a 332 megawatt solar generating facility on 2,800 acres within the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation.  The project proposes to connect to the existing 500kV Mohave Switchyard located near the town of Laughlin, Nev. In addition, the project entails constructing an 18-mile, 230 kV single or multiple circuit long transmission line, which will connect to a new substation and, ultimately, the 500 kV Mohave Switchyard.

In April, 2016 the Federal Registry included a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this project. It’s unclear how far the EIS process went before the actions were suspended. The Bureau of Indian Affairs didn’t respond to a request for comment on the status of the EIS.  However, history tells us an EIS for a large project can take 18-24 months; it’s not likely that step is complete since it only was noticed to proceed in April, 2016.

Construction of the project is expected to take 24-32 months once design and permitting activities are complete.

What we can learn from the documents is that the area is already disturbed, currently used for agriculture.  The land is being leased from the Tribe to the Developer for a minimum term of 25 years.

Evaluation of Prioritized Projects

Projects on the prioritized list are measured against strict criteria, namely:

  • A national security or public safety “emergency”
  • “Shovel-ready,” with at least 30 percent of initial design and engineering work complete
  • Direct job creator
  • Project with the potential for increased U.S. manufacturing

While the project is certainly a job creator, it’s unclear the impact on U.S. manufacturing; likewise the state of the design and engineering isn’t available.  It’s unlikely this project could be considered an “Emergency” for either national security or public safety.

It was reported that the incoming administration reached out to the States’ Transportation Departments to get a list of projects that would qualify for these investments.  According to ADOT officials, no list of projects was created or provided to the Administration.

Typically, when an injection of federal funds to a State’s Department of Transportation comes in, they are directed to ‘shovel-ready’ projects.  These projects are generally designed and permitted, as those are the most likely to put people to work right away. ADOT representatives confirmed that most often these projects are already listed in the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP); the funds allow ADOT to accelerate the construction phase.  Sometimes major projects outside the 5-year plan are accelerated due to a federal funding source such as a TIGER Grant.

First Solar and the BIA declined to comment for this story.  It’s unclear how this project was selected to be on the list.  Understanding this list is preliminary in nature, there are no guarantees that federal funds would be allocated to infrastructure projects, nor would this particular project necessarily stay on the list should a large infusion of federal funds become available. In any case, investment in infrastructure projects is needed, from renewables to roads and highways.

Sidenote at the end: Parting thoughts from the Publisher: I also really enjoyed this piece on the subject – How not to Screw up $1T Infrastructure Investment

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