The proposed solar projects would ultimately cover more than 118,000 acres of public land and and generate 5.3 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power about 4 million households. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis/Nevada Current)
Last week, the Department of the Interior announced it is advancing 15 renewable energy projects across the West, adding to a growing number of development projects on public lands in the region.
The new projects will be scattered on public land throughout Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, and Southern California.
In Nevada, the planned projects include a geothermal energy exploration project across 54 acres in Lyon County, and seven solar projects in Esmeralda County. The solar projects would cover more than 118,000 acres of public land and are expected to generate 5.3 gigawatts of electricity, or enough electricity to power about 4 million households.
Federal land managers are also eyeing the rich geothermal reserves across Nevada in their quest to develop renewable energy in the West.
This week, the Bureau of Land Management will hold competitive geothermal lease sales in Nevada, offering more than 135,000 acres of public land across Churchill, Esmeralda, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Lyon, Mineral, Nye, Pershing, White Pine, and Washoe counties.
“The BLM’s work to responsibly and quickly develop renewable energy projects is crucial to achieving the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning in a statement. “Investing in clean and reliable renewable energy represents the BLM’s commitment to addressing climate change and supports direction from the President and Congress to permit 25 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal production on public lands no later than 2025.”
Several clean energy projects on treasured public lands in Nevada have sparked pushback from locals and conservation groups.
Last year, a Nevada-based energy development company was forced to shrink the size of a planned geothermal power plant after Native American tribes in the state and conservation groups sued the federal government out of fear the project would harm the endangered Dixie Valley toad.
In April, Washoe County commissioners withdrew a permit for a geothermal exploration project near Gerlach, after locals voiced fears the project could negatively impact the town’s water supply, the structural integrity of their homes, and nearby natural hot springs.
Permitting roadblocks, like the ones in Nevada, have been a major source of frustration for the Biden administration. To speed up the approval and construction of projects, the administration is pushing Congress to enact permitting reform for projects on public lands.
Critics, however, say the quest to develop more renewable energy more quickly will have major consequences for Nevada’s plants, animals, and groundwater.
Kevin Emmerich, the co-founder of Basin and Range Watch, called the move by BLM to streamline the environmental review for the seven solar projects in Nevada “unprecedented.”
Conservation groups say, if built, the projects in Nevada could eliminate important habitat for species like the pale kangaroo mouse, burrowing owl, Brewer’sparrow, nye pincushion, bighorn sheep and ferruginous hawk.
Native American tribes in Nevada have also expressed concern that fast-tracking projects on federal lands could damage cultural and archaeological sites they consider sacred. The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation in Nevada raised concerns that a recently announced 214-mile transmission line between Nevada and Utah could disturb culturally sensitive areas in Spring Valley.
“It still remains disturbing that the BLM would sacrifice entire basins that provide migration corridors for species like pronghorn,” Emmerich said.
While Esmeralda County would bear the brunt of the planned 118,000 acres of solar energy development, the county’s substation is only capable of utilizing one gigawatt of the power that would be produced, Emmerich said. Esmeralda County officials have previously raised concerns about the speed of recent energy and mining development in the small rural county.
Federal land managers are giving the public 30-days of public comment to voice any concerns over the proposed seven solar projects across more than 118,000 acres of public land in Esmeralda.
“This effort is a high priority for BLM Nevada and will be a significant source of renewable energy in support of reaching the country’s clean energy goals,” said Battle Mountain District Manager Doug Furtado in a statement.
The nation’s electricity system isn’t built to move electricity seamlessly from one end of the U.S. to the other, an issue the Biden administration is hoping to improve by building three new, massive electrical transmission lines in the Southwest and New England.
At the end of October, the Department of Energy published a report analyzing the nation’s energy grid capacity through the year 2040. The study found that without more transmission investment, the current grid will not be able to handle future demand, including the growing energy demand for car electrification, climate change impacts, and the clean energy transition.
“It appears that the Interior Department is seeking to approve Right of Ways for projects that will have no way to connect to the grid” Emmerich criticized.
But it seems the Biden administration has no intention to slow down. Since 2021, federal land managers have approved 46 clean energy projects on nearly 35,000 acres of federally managed lands. Together, those projects are expected to produce up to 11.2 gigawatts of electricity — enough to power over 3.5 million homes.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.