Biggest US solar project approved in Nevada despite critics

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FILE - In this April 4, 2008 file photo, Marines wait for a desert tortoise, endangered and protected by federal law from harm or harassment, to move off the road at the U.S. Marine Corps' Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif. 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. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

RENO, Nev. – 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 (48 kilometers) 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 (28 sq. km) 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 Trump administration.”

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.