Thursday, June 30, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Map of Laughlin
1900 Cougar Dr., Laughlin
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Laughlin might soon find itself at the center of Nevada’s economic recovery, as a Chinese power company is seeking approval to build a solar panel manufacturing plant, industrial park and solar array there.
Clark County commissioners will be asked Tuesday to initiate negotiations with ENN Mojave Energy Corp. to purchase 5,400 acres of county land near Laughlin, which is about 90 miles south of Las Vegas.
When completed, the factory and an area for an industrial park would sit on 300 to 400 acres about 12 miles south of Laughlin, east of Needles Highway and west of the Colorado River. The factory would create about 2,000 skilled manufacturing jobs, according to county documents.
The average annual pay for such jobs, according to the company, was $72,000 in 2007. The company, however, wants to build more than the factory. County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said that after the factory is complete, workers will spend the next two to three years building solar panels for a massive solar plant on 5,100 acres on the west side of Needles Highway.
“I am pushing this as fast and hard as I can push it,” said Sisolak, whose district includes Laughlin and most of southern Clark County. “This represents a lot of jobs. And it’s not just construction jobs. There are permanent jobs, which makes it especially attractive.”
Completion of all phases of the project, which includes an industrial park, would take four years and employ 4,000 construction workers.
Total cost of the project is estimated at $4 billion to $6 billion.
“We’ll finally be manufacturing something in this state,” Sisolak said. “This is hopefully the start of diversifying our economy, a goal the state, the county, everyone has sought for years.”
Construction of the 500,000- to 1 million-square-foot factory could begin this year or in early 2012. Manufacture of solar panels would begin in March 2013. The plant would produce from 2.7 million to 5.4 million solar panels a year.
The first phase of the solar farm would begin operating in March 2014, the second phase in March 2015 and the third in March 2016. A fourth phase is also possible, according to company documents.
Sisolak met with company officials a few weeks ago, where the parent company, ENN Group, was described as the largest energy company in China. Company documents say it employs more than 25,000 worldwide in more than 100 subsidiaries. In 2010, it had revenue of $3.7 billion and assets of $6.1 billion.
ENN chose Laughlin after surveying the Southwest and finding few other states with large swaths of land available for development, Sisolak said. The company wants to sell the energy generated by the project to California power companies.
Sisolak said the selection of Nevada was aided by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s April trip to China, where he met ENN officials. “Sen. Reid sent them to me and we went from there,” Sisolak said.
Reid’s involvement will also be crucial for obtaining a federal waiver needed for the development to happen — the 5,400 acres under scrutiny are part of 9,000 acres conveyed to Clark County by the Colorado River Commission in 2007. County documents say the 5,400 acres are encumbered by a patent restriction that limits development “which must be waived or modified by the federal government to allow the proposed (solar) development.”
A spokesman for Reid’s office could not immediately be reached. Laughlin, with a population of less than 10,000, is unincorporated and operates with a board that has power only to advise the County Commission. The town manager did not return a call to the Sun.
Former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan and others will present ENN’s case to county commissioners next week.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Southern Nevada,” Bryan said Wednesday. “It combines the natural resources that we have together with a new manufacturing base that will enable us to diversify our economy.”
The 5,400 acres at issue are near the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation. Though most of the 42,000-acre reservation is in Arizona, it spans the Colorado River, and 5,500 acres of it covers the southern tip of Clark County.
Before voting Tuesday, county commissioners will have to consider whether the land would be sold at fair market value or less. Nevada allows the sale of public land below fair market value if that is seen in the “best interest” of the public.
Sisolak said the entire project “is in the best interest of the public: It’s jobs and we need them.”
A real estate agent in Laughlin said land in the area considered for the solar array and factory sells for about $10,000 an acre. If Clark County got that price, it would reap about $54 million.