Under the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act of 1974, the Paragon-Bisti Ranch was set aside for the benefit of Navajo families (relocatees) living on Hopi Partitioned Lands. Now, more than 40 years later, the Navajo Nation is pursuing plans to use those resource-rich lands to cultivate clean, renewable energy.
As a first step in a multi-year, multi-phased project, the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office (NHLCO) has completed a feasibility study to develop a solar photovoltaic (PV) renewable energy project on the 22,000-acre Paragon-Bisti Solar Ranch in northwestern New Mexico.
The energy vision of the Navajo Nation is to establish itself as a leading provider of clean, commercial power on a large scale amongst tribal nations. To realize that vision, the tribal government is pursuing sustainable, economically viable strategies for harnessing its ample renewable sources and unlocking the value of tribal lands to benefit tribal members. Working with NHLCO and its partner firms, as well as developers, to establish multiple solar ranches on Paragon-Bisti Ranch is among those strategies. As a first step in the project development process, NHLCO needed to evaluate the technical and economic feasibility of the proposed project. NHLCO applied for and was selected to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Tribal Energy Program to fund a feasibility study.
NHLCO contracted with TetraTech to conduct the study, which confirmed that approximately 10,000 acres on five major sites are suitable for hosting 2,100 megawatts (MW) of solar PV power—equal to the entire generating capacity of the state of New Mexico. Site 1, which consists of approximately 1,321 acres adjoining the Bisti Substation on New Mexico State Highway 371 north of De-Na-Zin Wash, could host as much as 290 MW of clean renewable power.
“There is extraordinary potential for the Navajo Nation to develop renewable energy resources on our lands,” said NHLCO Executive Director Wenona Benally.
The study was completed on June 30, 2015. The project will now move to the pre-construction phase, which includes meeting and recruiting solar developers, surveying, and performing an environmental assessment.
- Broad impact—a renewable energy project of this scale will serve as a model for all tribal nations.
- Societal—this renewable energy project will provide opportunities for training and careers for tribal members, including up to 1,000 short-term jobs for each 100-MW PV plant and a total of up to 30 long-term jobs. Annual wages could exceed $1 million for each 100-MW plant.
- Environmental—the project will provide more than 2,000 MW of clean commercial power, generating an estimated 90 to 144 million megawatt-hours over its working life and avoiding 52 to 176 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions. This would displace the mining and burning of 14 million to 48 million metric tonnes of fossil fuel, which is enough to fill a train 3,000 to 10,000 miles long.
- Economic—the power generated at the Paragon-Bisti Solar Ranch has the potential to provide a significant source of revenue for the tribe.
“The Commissioners appreciate the magnitude of this project, and we are thankful for the investment by the U.S. Department of Energy,” stated NHLC Chair Council Delegate Walter Phelps.
There is extraordinary potential for the Navajo Nation to develop renewable energy resources on our lands.