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The Chinese Try to Harness the Nevada Sun

A struggling town strikes a bargain with a solar power supplier
Reid: "This project is close to California. It's within walking distance"
Reid: "This project is close to California. It's within walking distance"Photo illustration by 731; Reid: Ethan Miller/Getty Images; Laughlin: Justin Bowen/Las Vegas Sun

Laughlin, Nev., is a dusty outpost 113 miles southeast of Las Vegas, a town of 7,300 people, 11 casinos, and not much else. With many citizens in dire economic straits and facing foreclosure, Laughlin’s civic leaders had long hoped to attract new businesses. Nothing worked until China’s ENN Group came to town on the arm of U.S. Senator Harry Reid with a plan to build a $5 billion solar energy complex on a barren plot of land on Laughlin’s outskirts.

ENN, based in the northern city of Langfang, is buying 14 square miles of land from Clark County for $4.5 million, less than one-eighth of the $38.6 million assessors told the county the property was worth last year. The company plans to manufacture solar panels on the site and then operate a solar farm generating 700 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 175,000 homes. It says the construction of the complex would put 2,505 people to work. County officials say a statute allows governments to sell property for development at a below-market rate if the project creates jobs.