BLM weighs Nev. project that would be among largest ever

Source: Scott Streater, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, July 16, 2018

The Bureau of Land Management announced today that it will conduct a detailed analysis of a commercial-scale solar power project north of Las Vegas that, if built, would be among the largest power-producing photovoltaic power plants in the world.

BLM will prepare an environmental impact statement of the Gemini Solar Project, which is projected to have the capacity to produce up to 690 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power nearly 210,000 homes and businesses.

The project, proposed by Redwood City, Calif.-based Solar Partners XI LLC, would be among the largest BLM has ever approved on federal lands.

Gemini Solar also would appear to rank in the Top 10 worldwide, just ahead of the 648-MW Kamuthi Solar Power Project in India. Numerous large-scale solar projects are being built in China and India, however, and the rankings of the world’s largest power plants change on a fairly regular basis.

The Gemini project would be located on about 7,100 acres of public land about 25 miles northeast of Las Vegas in Clark County, Nev., according to a notice published in today’s Federal Register.

Today’s notice kicks off a 45-day public scoping period in which comments that will help guide BLM’s study can be submitted to the agency through Aug. 27.

BLM is proposing to withdraw the proposed project area from new mining claims for as long as two years while it conducts the environmental impact statement.

“The BLM strives to be a good neighbor in the communities we serve, and we look forward to receiving input from the public on this proposal,” Tim Smith, manager of BLM’s Southern Nevada District, said in a statement.

But as with any project covering thousands of acres of undeveloped federal land, there are environmental concerns BLM will need to evaluate with the Gemini plan.

The agency in today’s Federal Register notice lists a number of “preliminary issues” that will need to be addressed, including possible project impacts to visual and cultural resources, tribal interests, and recreation.

“The Congressionally-designated Old Spanish National Historic Trail crosses the area,” the notice says. “Habitat for the federally listed desert tortoise is also in this proposed area.”

The sheer size of the Gemini project worries Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of Basin and Range Watch in Nevada, which has been tracking large-scale renewable energy projects on federal lands since the early days of the Obama administration.

“We oppose energy projects that are this large on public lands,” Emmerich said in an email to E&E News, noting the project site contains “significant habitat for the desert tortoise.”

He added: “The project would also be built on the entrance road to the Valley of Fire State Park and be adjacent to the Muddy Mountains Wilderness Area. The Visual Resource Management Class would have to be downgraded by BLM to approve the project. Valley of Fire State Park is one of the most popular outdoor locations in the state of Nevada.”

Other projects

The Obama administration approved 60 solar, wind and geothermal power projects on federal lands that are projected to have a total capacity to produce about 15,500 MW of electricity — enough to power more than 5 million homes and businesses. Of those approved projects, 36 were solar.

Renewables development has slowed under the Trump administration, which has made increasing fossil fuels production and mining activity on public lands a top priority.

But the Gemini Solar Project is the second large-scale solar power project in Nevada that BLM has announced it will study in the last two months.

BLM in May announced it would analyze the 250-MW Yellow Pine Solar Project, proposed to be built about 32 miles west of Las Vegas (Greenwire, May 31).

That project, which would have the capacity to power about 75,000 homes, is still out for a 90-day public scoping comment period running through Aug. 28.

The project is proposed by Yellow Pine Solar LLC, a wholly owned indirect subsidiary of Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy Resources LLC.

Interior Department officials have insisted that renewable energy will not be left behind in President Trump’s “energy dominance” campaign, and the Gemini Solar Project continues a recent push to advance renewables development on federal lands.

BLM in May announced it had completed its review of a 500-MW solar power project in Southern California that was once left for dead after its Spain-based developer went bankrupt (E&E News PM, May 17).

And in April, BLM announced it plans to establish a new leasing zone for large-scale solar power development in southern Nevada — the 1,800-acre Dry Lake East Designated Leasing Area, about 10 miles northeast of Las Vegas (Greenwire, April 13).

BLM is currently working on a resource management plan amendment and an environmental assessment studying the impacts of commercial-scale solar power development in the region.

The bureau in March also announced it will partner with California on a joint analysis of the 350-MW Crimson Solar Project (Greenwire, March 9).