Last Friday was a momentous day for the Moapa Band of Paiute in Nevada. Joined by executives of First Solar, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and numerous dignitaries, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, tribal leaders and community members broke ground on the 250-megawatt Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project on the Moapa Indian Reservation -- making it the first utility-scale solar project on tribal land.

Set to be fully operational by the end of 2015, the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar project will deliver clean, renewable energy to the City of Los Angeles for 25 years, providing enough energy for more than 93,000 homes. This amount of renewable energy will displace approximately 313,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually -- the equivalent of taking about 60,000 cars off the road.

The solar project won’t just benefit the environment. It is also having a big effect on the Moapa tribe. The project is expected to create 400 construction jobs, many of which are already being filled by qualified tribal members. Other members of the tribe are taking advantage of the project’s training opportunities to contribute to the clean energy economy.

It has been a long journey for Moapa’s elected and community leaders -- one that I witnessed firsthand -- as they found a way to balance the promise of a clean energy future and the community’s pressing energy needs.

Moapa tribal leaders were one of the first to meet with us after the Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy was established. With a clear vision in mind, the Tribe’s leadership requested technical assistance on this utility-scale project as well as smaller-scale solar projects that could offset the tribe’s high energy costs.

In addition to the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project, we also worked with the Moapa tribal government and the Department of Agriculture on an on-site, off-grid solar project that will provide all the energy needed to power the Tribe’s travel plaza. It has been a collaborative and rewarding effort for both the community and Energy Department, who share a common goal of supporting tribal efforts that show potential for fulfilling the real promise of clean energy development in Indian Country.

At the groundbreaking, Moapa Chairwoman Aletha Tom eloquently phrased the challenge the tribe faced as they create economic opportunities while preserving the Moapa land and cultural heritage. “This is an important step in becoming a leader in Indian Country and will help to create a model for other tribes to follow. If our small tribe can accomplish this, then others can also. There are endless opportunities in renewable energy, and tribes across the nation have the available land on which to build them.”

To learn more about the Energy Department’s programs for tribes, visit the Office of Indian Energy’s website