Boulder City and Solar Development

Our research focused on Nevada Solar One’s socioeconomic impacts on Boulder City, Nevada, to the exclusion of other urban areas in proximity to the facility. Initial research efforts identified two urban centers in Clark County close to Nevada Solar One: Boulder City, the jurisdiction in which the facility is located, and the nearby city of Henderson, Nevada. We assumed these cities had experienced the greatest impacts because they are located closest to the facility. However, early interviews with two Henderson urban planners revealed that the city had likely experienced few if any effects from the facility, and that our research should focus on Boulder City.

Located approximately 20 miles from Las Vegas, Boulder City, Nevada is a small town of about 16,000 people. Originally built to house the workers who built the Hoover Dam, today Boulder City encompasses over 200 square miles, making it Nevada’s largest city by land area. Despite its sprawling size, Boulder City is known for its “small town feel.” A local planner described Boulder City as a “typical Midwestern small town except in the west and in the desert.” One individual said that city residents “like to keep their community somewhat small and quaint.” The community is slow growth by ordinance, meaning that city laws discourage increases to the population. A city official noted the residents’ strong sense of community and that many actively volunteer in the area.

Boulder City has several dominant employers and industries. The Bureau of Reclamation and Clark County school district employ many individuals, as do the Hoover Dam, Boulder City government, and the local hospital. Tourism is also an important part of the city’s economy; nearby tourist attractions include the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas.

Boulder City began planning for solar development in the mid-1990s. In 1995, the City amended its city charter to reserve 3.5 square miles of undeveloped land specifically for future solar development. Since then, Boulder City has set aside a total of about 14 square miles for solar development.

In 2003, Boulder City released a request for proposal to build a solar energy facility. Residents were generally supportive of the solar facility. As one interviewee put it, residents’ primary question was, “‘What’s in it for me?’” The interviewee added that once residents began to realize the positive impacts a solar facility would have on the city, such as the lease payments, they were all “very supportive.” Approximately four years later, in June 2007, Nevada Solar One began producing power. At that time, the developer, Acciona Solar Power, billed the facility, which has a nameplate capacity of 64 MW, as the largest solar electric project in 14 years, as well as the third largest in the world.1 Nevada Solar One is approximately 15 miles from downtown Boulder City.

1 Tony Illia, “Green Light: Nevada’s Largest Solar Power Plant Opens,” Southwest Contractor, June 1, 2007,