The Next Green Energy Ground Zero by Kevin Emmerich, Basin and Range Watch
Large-scale renewable energy developers have been looking for ways to develop vast swaths of Nevada public lands for about twelve years now. Their problem has always been a lack of available transmission access and capacity. Just about every basin in Nevada has been looked upon by large-scale solar developers for potential large-scale solar projects. Many of Nevada’s mountain ranges are being looked at for potential wind energy while geothermal and pumped storage locations are being explored as well.
In March 2021, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission approved the first phase of the permitting process for the Green Link West Transmission Project – a 350 mile long, 525 kilovolt transmission line that would go from Reno to the Harry Allen Substation just east of Las Vegas, Nevada. The project was also recently pushed through with the passage of Nevada Senate Bill 448 which would accelerate the approval of the Green Link West Project. Not one Nevada politician considered the environmental impacts of the project during the hearing which was held with very little public notice.
The Green Link West Project is considered the Number 18 priority under President Biden’s Infrastructure Plan. This has created a perfect storm of large-scale green energy plans and environmental impacts in the future.
If the Green Link West line is built, it will invite the construction of 9 gigawatts of renewable energy in the outback of Western Nevada. The BLM has said that the project will be streamlined, and the environmental review will be complete in one year. This comes after Interior Secretary Haaland revoked Secretarial Order 3355 requiring all environmental impact statement reviews to be complete in one year. At one point, the BLM said the project would be completed by 2026, but later retracted the statement as it is not appropriate for them to predetermine the outcome of an environmental review. The BLM is trying to meet the schedule of NV Energy, the applicant. It will enable new microwave towers, new access roads, amplifier sites, and eleven new substations.
The Greenlink West Transmission line will have towers that will be as high as 180 feet. It will run through very wild, undeveloped areas in Nevada. Some of the more controversial areas will be:
* East shore of Walker Lake
* Bi-State Sage Grouse Habitat near Hawthorn
* Pronghorn Breeding Habitat on Sacrobatus Flat
* Through part of the new Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
* Through desert tortoise and Western Joshua Tree habitat in Southern Nevada
There are now dozens of applications for large-scale solar project being sent to both the Bureau of Land Management and the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. There are far too many to list them all, but below are some examples of how much land is being looked at by solar developers. At this point, almost every application is for solar energy with battery storage. We have totaled up about 105,000 acres so far, but that number keeps growing. I will list some of these by region:
Yerington and surrounding area:
• Mason Valley Solar and Pine Nut Solar Project: Nextera Energy, 4,539 acres, 400 Megawatts.
• Libra Solar Project: Arevia Solar, 5,400 acres, 700 MW.
• Walker Lake Pumped Storage Project: Premium Energy LLC, 2,000 MW, would back up big solar projects. Very controversial.
Esmeralda County, east of Tonopah:
• CD Solar: EDF Renewables, 17,900 acres, 1,000 MW.
• Nivloc Solar: Nivloc Solar LLC, 14,700 acres.
• Esmeralda Energy Center: 9,800 acres, 500 MW, Nextera Energy.
• Sawtooth Solar: Nextera Energy, 1,000 MW, 10,000 acres hugging the border of Death Valley National Park. Over 70,000 Western Joshua trees live on the proposed site.
• Beatty Energy Center: Nextera Energy, 800 MW, 6,500 acres directly on the border of Death Valley National Park surrounding the Titus Canyon Road entrance. In full view of Rhyolite Ghost Town.
• SB Solar: EDF Renewables, 500 MW, 5,300 acres. Just south of the Beatty Energy Center, also on the border of Death Valley National Park.
• Solar 373: Solar 373 LLC, 400 MW, 5,300 acres, 4 miles from Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and about 6 miles from Devil’s Hole, Death Valley National Park. Big “lake effect” impact to birds and water use near Devil’s Hole.
• Jackass Flats Solar: EDF Renewables: 1,000 MW, 10,000 acres about 10 miles from Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
• Busted Butte Solar: 1 and 2: 8minute Energy, 16,000 MW, about 18,000 acres combined, 10 miles from Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
Las Vegas Valley and North:
- Bonanza Solar: EDF Renewables, 600 MW, 5,100 acres, Mojave yuccas, desert tortoise, rare plants.
- Northwest Solar: EDF Renewables, 250 MW, 2,200 acres, hugging the border of the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument.
The Bureau of Land Management has scheduled the Environmental Impact Statement for the Green Link West transmission project to be released in April, 2022. Basin and Range Watch is opposing Transmission Line. When the EIS is released, the BLM will amend some of the Resource Management Plans to accommodate the resource impacts that will be associated with the transmission project. Plan amendments are an opportunity to change BLM resource plans for the better. Basin and Range Watch will be helping local Nevada communities request “solar exclusion zones” which would prohibit big solar development close to their most valued areas. This must be done. Neither the solar developers, Nevada legislators, or the BLM have expressed any concern about how these plans may impact the quality of life and environment in Western Nevada.
Large-scale energy, no matter how it is produced, can not be considered “renewable” when so much habitat and public land must be sacrificed to make it happen. Now more than ever, is the time to ask permitting agencies to consider built environment alternatives to siting this energy.
Kevin Emmerich is a former park ranger and field biologist. He has lived in the Mojave Desert for thirty years. Together with his wife, they founded the non-profit conservation organization Basin & Range Watch. They now live on an old ranch surrounded by a nature preserve in Nevada near Death Valley National Park.