On one-hand Warren Buffet’s NV-Energy mega solar farm must content with environmental challenges common to development in desert environments. On the other-hand the solar projects offsets emissions from carbon-based energy generation.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) identified a series of environmental challenges to Buffett’s Gemini Solar Project that his developers must address prior to development 33 miles northeast of Las Vegas and south of the Moapa River Indian Reservation.
The construction of a photo-voltaic power plant generating approximately 690-megawatt (MWAC) of power on roughly 7,100 acres of BLM administered desert land has environmental pros and cons.
The United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the Gemini Solar Project,[i] identified 30 existing or planned projects in the Gemini Solar development area. Taken together the cumulative environmental effects include:
- Impacts on surface and groundwater systems including soil
destabilization and erosion and water connectivity disruptions downstream. Groundwater impacts could occur if on-site groundwater pumping were utilized to supply construction and operational water needs.
Surface hydro-logic features in the project area include intermittent and ephemeral stream channels or drainage and alluvial fans. Surface grading and removal of vegetation would disturb these surface water features, disrupt flows in ephemeral stream channels, and alter drainage patterns.
Additional Impacts include (1) increased risks of flooding on site and downstream from increased surface flows to the major washes; and (2) impacts on water quality, primarily from transport of sediments (but also from dust), and also due to potential chemical releases from equipment or herbicides.
- The Project would impact vegetation, habitat and wildlife. Plants removed by the roots may never or take a century to recovery.
Habitat disturbance and direct injury or mortality to individuals from contact with construction equipment and/or project facilities and equipment is likely. The fencing around the Project could block the free movement of any wildlife that cannot fit through or under the fence. Impacts on the movements of large game species would be minimal since such species rarely use the Project site.Construction activities could result in the direct injury or death of nesting birds and their egg Bird collisions with construction equipment, transmission lines, and facility lighting is likely.
The only federally threatened, endangered, or candidate species known or with potential to occur in the project area is the Mojave Desert tortoise.The Mojave Desert tortoise is listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species. The BLM identified up to 215 adult tortoises and 900 or more juveniles that would be lost during construction and operation of the project as there is no area where the tortoises could be relocated.
- Climate Change. Worker vehicles traveling to and from the site and those conducting maintenance activities would emit some pollutant Some emissions from the testing and use of generators could occur but would be minimal. he project.
Overall solar facilities could offset emissions from carbon-based energy generation.
[i] United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement for the Gemini Solar Project, Final, December 27, 2019