FILE - This Sept. 3, 2008 file photo shows an endangered desert tortoise in the middle of a road at the proposed location of three BrightSource Energy solar-energy generation complexes in the eastern Mojave Desert near Ivanpah, Calif., just south of the Nevada state line. The Trump administration has given final approval to the largest solar energy project in the U.S. and one of the biggest in the world despite objections from conservationists who say it will destroy habitat critical to the survival of the threatened Mojave desert tortoise in southern Nevada.
RENO — The Trump
administration announced final approval Monday of the largest solar energy
project in the U.S. and one of the biggest in the world despite objections from
conservationists who say it will destroy thousands of acres of habitat critical
to the survival of the threatened Mojave desert tortoise in Nevada.
The $1 billion Gemini solar
and battery storage project about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas is expected
to produce 690 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 260,000 households —
and annually offset greenhouse emissions of about 83,000 cars.
It will create about 2,000
direct and indirect jobs and inject an estimated $712.5 million in the economy
as the nation tries to recover from the downturn brought on by the coronavirus
outbreak, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said.
"As our economy rebounds
from the invisible enemy, President Trump is working to make the United States
stronger than ever before," Bernhardt said Monday. "Our economic
resurgence will rely on getting America back to work and this project delivers
on that objective."
The first phase of the
project covering about 11 square miles of federal land is expected to be
completed next year with 440 MW of solar capacity for use in Nevada. Another
250 MW of generating capacity would be added in the second phase with the power
sold in Nevada or exported to Arizona and California in 2022.
"It's an important
moment in Nevada history," Deputy Assistant Secretary Casey Hammond told
reporters on a conference call. "Domestic energy production on federal
lands remains fundamental to our national security and the achievements of the
The joint venture by
Australia's Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners and California-based Arevia Power
is part of an integrated resource plan Nevada's Public Utilities Commission
approved last year for NV Energy, which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffet
and is Nevada's largest utility.
Coupled with a 380 megawatt
AC battery storage system, it will be one of the first in Nevada to include
batteries to enable power delivery after the sun goes down.
"The solar industry is
resilient and a project like this one will bring jobs and private investment to
the state when we need it most," said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and
CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
including the Western Watersheds Project and Basin and Range Watch have been
trying unsuccessfully for years to persuade the Bureau of Land Management to
build the project elsewhere.
"We believe solar energy
can be an incredibly good thing but if you put it in the wrong location it can
be the worst thing in the world for the environment," said Kevin Emmerich,
director of Basin and Range Watch.
"We don't think it will
cause the extinction of the desert tortoise, but it is going to be a fairly big
nail in the coffin of the species," he said in an interview Monday.
In addition to the tortoise,
the site is home to two types of rare milkvetch plants, kit foxes, burrowing
owls and wildflowers, said Laura Cunningham, a biologist with the Western
"The area is rich in
biological soil crusts, which sequester large amounts of carbon, but which will
now be scraped, bulldozed, mowed and driven on to construct this industrial
power plant," she said.
Bernhardt acknowledged in the
record of decision he signed Friday the project would adversely impact tortoise
habitat, but "on balance, the benefits associated with large scale
renewable energy production and battery storage capacity outweigh the impacts
to the desert tortoise."
The project will create as
many as 900 construction jobs at its peak, with 19 permanent workers at the
site, and support an additional 1,100 jobs in the local community, he said.