In Nevada, land and sunshine are plentiful, making it prime territory for solar developers who are quickly launching large projects in the state. But industrial solar backers can find themselves facing resistance in rural areas where residents fear harm to their local economy and way of life.
The Mormon Mesa, about two miles from the communities of Logandale and Overton in the Moapa Valley, is the proposed site of the Battle Born Solar Project, a venture proposed by California-based Arevia Power, that would cover about 9,180 acres of a 24,000 acre application area on public land under the management of the Bureau of Land Management in Clark County, according to a docket filled with the Public Utility Commission of Nevada.
The 850 megawatt plant would border much of the east-west expanse of the mesa, cutting off access to public lands and encroaching on the existing vista.
The project has the support of Gov. Steve Sisolak, who sent a letter in February to the Trump administration requesting the project be fast-tracked and designated as a “covered project” under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST), meant to speed up the federal permitting process for certain infrastructure projects. In the letter, Sisolak said the project would bring “robust economic benefits” to the state and would contribute to the expansion of renewable energy to the region.
“We are excited by the opportunities the project will bring to Nevada and understand that one constructed to its maximum capacity of 850 megawatts, Battle Born project will be one of the largest photovoltaic solar plus battery projects in the country,” Sisolak wrote.
Residents of Moapa Valley — a town with a population of about 7,000 — however, are pushing to stop the project before it starts. Lisa Childs, a retired Air Traffic Controller living in the Moapa Valley, is spearheading a protest group of residents and businesses who oppose the project which would be built immediately northeast of the Moapa Valley.
“Our mesa is a highly used recreational area,” said Childs. “There’s a lot of tourism there and it has increased over the years and it just shows the popularity of the mesa. The views up there are phenomenal. It’s one of those things you just have to see to understand it’s value.”
The solar project would deeply damage the local economy, said Childs, citing the history of the valley’s economy.
In 2010, receding water levels in Lake Mead due to the ongoing drought forced the National Park Service to close Overton Beach in Moapa Valley, cutting off vehicle and boat access to the area.
“When they closed the Overton Beach tourism dropped 40 percent in the valley and we don’t have golf courses and casinos. Our recreational tourism is our income,” said Childs. “A lot of businesses had to close because they couldn’t make it.”
“Cutting off public access could cause another drop in our tourism and the companies that are left wouldn’t be able to sustain it,” Childs said. “I can tell you out of 7,000 people in the valley 7,000 do not want that project here. It’s going to be too destructive for our area.”
About 200 people attended a Moapa Valley Town Advisory Meeting late last month, many of whom spoke in opposition to the project during public comment after a brief presentation by Arevia Power officials.
Moapa Valley Chamber of Commerce President Vanette Christensen strongly opposed the project.
“I support having solar fields and great energy products, but not next to a residential area,” Christensen said at the November meeting. “The problem for us is business-wise. We were impacted when the lake dropped, it closed businesses. This will do the same.”
A presentation prepared by Arevia Power projects the solar plant will generate 1,125 direct jobs throughout its estimated two-year construction period. The company argues the project will provide direct and indirect benefits for vendors and other businesses in Southern Nevada, generating $285 million in labor income and an overall $530 million economic impact to Nevada, GDP effect in the state, including significant property and sales tax revenue for local governments. The project is also expected to offset 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
However during public comment residents argued that any employment during construction will not be given to locals, and that the structure will only harm the long-term recreational economy the valley has built over the years.
“I’ve been doing rentals for over 15 years,” said Jill Williams, operator of Awesome Adventures, an ATV Tours & Rentals shop in the Moapa Valley. “I can assure you that there is not a person on the planet who wants to erase our beauty up there to look at some solar panels. This is a bad idea all the way around.”
“We’re not going to let a company like you take that away from us,” Williams said to loud applause.
Sammy Vassilev, the owner of Skydive Fyrosity which utilizes the Perkins Field Airport in Overton for departure, said he uses the open space in the mesa for his business and would be affected by the solar project.
“Since we opened in 2016 we’ve brought over 20,000 people into the valley,” Vassilev said, during public comment. “This project will absolutely affect our business in a way that’s irreversible.”
Moapa Valley resident Blake Monk, representing the Motorcycle Racing Association of Nevada (MRAN), said the project would shut down major off-road racing events that regularly go on in the area.
“We put on a race out there on the Momon Mesa and it goes right through the middle of this project that you’re putting in. It’s the only permit we can get up there. We’ve been doing this since the 70’s. We have a running permit every year,” said Blake, at the meeting.
Ricardo Graf, Arevia Power’s managing partner, told the residents the project was still in its early stages and well ahead of the public process required by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), adding that the presentation was designed to elicit feedback that will be incorporated into the final proposal. Graf also said Avevia plans to preserve access to trails and roadways.
“The intent is not to block off any current roads that are out there,” Graf said. “We can piece them together however you like and preserve any kind of recreational or historic trails. The roads will be maintained.”
However, residents and businesses remain skeptical of the promised access by Avevia and the supposed economic benefits of the solar project at the expense of the scenic value of the mesa and are planning a protest on top of the Mesa on December 12 at 10 AM.
“This isn’t about us just not wanting it in our neighborhood. This could destroy us,” said Childs.