LAS VEGAS — A Native American tribe that won a long battle this year to get Nevada’s dominant electric utility to shut down a coal-fired power plant unveiled plans Tuesday to let a developer build a sprawling solar electricity generating station on reservation land outside Las Vegas.
Moapa Band of Paiutes leader Eric Lee joined Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the president of a local fuel supplier to announce a partnership aimed at building an initial project capable of supplying electricity to thousands of homes annually.
“We love this land of ours and plan to use it for bigger and better solar energy,” Lee told reporters ahead of the sixth annual National Clean Energy Summit hosted by Reid at the Mandalay Bay resort on the Las Vegas Strip.
Federal Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell were among headliners for the event focusing on energy policy, production and promotion under the theme “Energizing Tomorrow.” The day-long conference features panels about efforts to develop clean energy.
Moniz also was due Tuesday to talk with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval about federal plans to ship some 403 canisters of radioactive waste from a federal facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to the Nevada National Security Site. Sandoval has said the former national nuclear proving ground north of Las Vegas isn’t appropriate for shallow burial of highly radioactive waste that could be used to build a “dirty bomb.”
Moniz told reporters the state doesn’t have jurisdiction over the shipments. But he said the Energy Department is reshaping plans to suit Sandoval’s concerns that also include transporting the waste in and around Las Vegas.
The waste will be buried deeper than originally proposed, Moniz said, and transportation will be handled with the same security used for nuclear weapons. A department projection of the effects of the waste over 10,000 years “came out fine,” he said.
Nuclear waste is a sensitive topic in Nevada, where many residents and most elected officials have fought for more than three decades to block federal plans to ship the nation’s most radioactive nuclear reactor waste to Yucca Mountain, an ancient volcanic ridge about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Work at the site has been dormant since Congress cut funding, partly due to Reid’s efforts.
But a federal court ruled Tuesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been violating federal law by delaying a decision whether to issue a license for the Yucca project. Reid dismissed the court ruling as “fairly meaningless” with no funding for the project.
“This, without being disrespectful to the court, means nothing,” Reid told reporters.
Even if the Obama administration moves forward on the application, “there’s no money” for Yucca Mountain, Reid said. “We’ve cut out funding for many years now and there’s none in our budget to start it.”
Moniz said separately that the Energy Department wasn’t a party to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission lawsuit. South Carolina and Washington state want to force the NRC to rule on the Yucca Mountain application. The states both have large nuclear waste sites that would use the Yucca repository.
Moniz said the department approach to Yucca Mountain would await an NRC response to the 2-1 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
“Currently, we do not have funding,” the energy secretary added.