Farmington — Right now, there's not much to see on the land east of N.M. Highway 371 near the Bisti Wilderness Area.

But a group of Navajo Nation officials and business representatives who gathered on the arid land Tuesday see potential.

Specifically, they envision rows and rows of solar panels. As they consulted a map from the Navajo Land Department outlining the boundaries of Paragon Ranch, they discussed areas that could house the panels.

Paragon Ranch is 22,000 acres of land in the Eastern Agency set aside under the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act to benefit people relocated because of the Navajo-Hopi land dispute.

Roman Bitsuie, senior program specialist with the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office, points to a piece of land on a map from the Navajo Land Department of
Roman Bitsuie, senior program specialist with the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office, points to a piece of land on a map from the Navajo Land Department of Paragon Ranch on Tuesday during a visit to site one of the proposed Paragon-Bisti Renewable Energy Ranch off N.M. Highway 371. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

The solar panels are part of the proposed Paragon-Bisti Renewable Energy Ranch. When fully operational, it would stretch across 17,360 acres, producing 4,370 megawatts of energy.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Bureau of Indian Affairs awarded the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Office grants to study the area for potential energy generating projects.

On Tuesday, the NHLC office gave an update on the second phase of the feasibility study. The study is a collaboration between the office, businesses Tetra Tech and Blue Hawk Design and nonprofit Rural Community Innovations.

"As everyone is aware, there is a never-ending demand for energy in the country and in the world and the demand is consistently increasing," said Raymond Maxx, director of the NHLC office. "With this and other projects, Navajos can help meet the energy demands with renewable energy that's produced on our lands."

If the Paragon-Bisti Renewable Energy Ranch project is constructed, it would compete with the world's largest renewable energy projects, said Scott Prosuch, senior program manager with Tetra Tech, an environmental engineering and consulting company.

But the group has less than one year to complete the feasibility study, he added.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said throughout his 39 years in Navajo politics, he has continually heard about economic development projects for Paragon Ranch. Despite the project not yet breaking ground, he encouraged the group to continue its study.

"I hope I get to live to see it," Shelly said. "I hope that next year something can be done on Paragon Ranch."

He added that a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday opened a solar panel manufacturing plant in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

Scott Prosuch, senior program manager at Tetra Tech, gives a presentation on the Paragon-Bisti Renewable Energy Ranch feasibility study on Tuesday at the
Scott Prosuch, senior program manager at Tetra Tech, gives a presentation on the Paragon-Bisti Renewable Energy Ranch feasibility study on Tuesday at the Civic Center in Farmington. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

Between that plant and the Paragon-Bisti Renewable Energy Ranch project, the tribe is diversifying its energy portfolio, he said.

"I challenge you to move this thing forward, faster than you should. I don't want to sit here the next 10 years still talking about Paragon Ranch," he said.

The renewable energy project still has a long way to go, including establishing transmission lines, securing funding for construction and entering into market power sales agreements with companies like Public Service Company of New Mexico or Arizona Public Service.

"The current method of producing energy has shown to have negative impact on our environment and all living creatures," Maxx said. "With our tradition, customs and religions tied to Mother Earth, this project is the right thing to do."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.