One rare silver lining of this last year’s pandemic and resulting economic decline has been a newfound aligning of priorities for those working in both state and federal government. A multi-level crisis as it is, something good can come out of the situation as policymakers debate over the best plan of action for recovery. Nevada, where residents saw their bustling Vegas-fueled tourist economy take an unprecedented downturn in 2020, is like any other in that need for economic growth. In an instance that comes few and far between, it appears that a recovery plan that is palatable for economists and clean energy advocates alike is now feasible.
Desperately needed job creation can, for the first time, come in the form of large-scale solar energy construction and lithium mining. Investments like the Arrow Canyon Solar Project and Tesla’s highly publicized expansion could not come sooner to a state that saw its Las Vegas metro area unemployment rate reach highs of 34 percent last year.
Surely, the first item on Nevada’s list to bolster recovery is the expansion of its solar industry. Being the desert that it is, the state is high up the list for sun exposure and thus is ripe with potential for becoming one of the national leaders in solar energy, once the appropriate infrastructure is constructed. While energy companies and policymakers must be sure to get local communities on board with projects, there are thankfully a large number of solar arrays already in the planning and building stages. This delicate dance between business, government and residents is further complicated by the fact that a wide swath of the undeveloped land in Nevada lies within reservations for the state’s sizable Native American population.
Two of the state’s most extensive solar projects currently in development are borne out of a marriage between the state government and Native American leaders. Following an agreement between Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management and the local Moapa Band of Paiutes tribe, both the Southern Bighorn Solar Project and the Arrow Canyon Solar Project are in development on the Moapa reservation. In total, the facilities will generate enough solar power to support 192,000 homes each year and will provide hundreds of jobs between the construction and maintenance of each facility. Beyond that, Primergy Solar LLC has purchased two solar projects for development in the state. Between the two, the 250 megawatts Iron Point Solar facility should be operational in 2023, with the 350 megawatt Hot Pot array to follow in 2024.
Nationally, Nevada’s “Lithium Valley” is known for its potential as a vital natural resource for mining the rare earth metals that are essential for building out a domestic electric vehicle battery supply chain. This has begun to attract the eyes of big businesses, including Tesla Motors. The company has recently purchased 10,000 acres of land near the famed Clayton Valley lithium deposits and has also filed a patent for using sodium chloride to extract lithium from the dirt. This new method is believed to be more environmentally friendly than the typical acid leaching process that is currently used.
Within Clayton Valley itself, the land is being divided up between a number of interested parties including ACME Lithium, Cruz Cobalt Corporation and Canada’s Spearmint Resources. Once all projects are in full swing, the valley should become a hub for mining jobs as well as the main provider of the batteries materials for the nation, an investment that will pay off for years to come.