A Nevada installation that would be the largest solar power project in U.S. history was approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior on May 11. The estimated $1 billion, 690-MW Gemini solar photovoltaic electric generating facility is sited on 7,000 acres about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt signed the Record of Decision (ROD) that paves the way for Redwood City, California–based Solar Partners XI to build the facility. Solar Partners, a consortium that includes NV Energy, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, first announced its intention for the project in July 2017, saying it would work with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the project, which will use federal land (Figure 1).

The project will include four large lithium-ion batteries capable of storing up to 380 MW of solar energy for up to four hours.

‘Investment in American Energy’

The ROD approves a right-of-way grant for the project, along with authorizing 34.5-kV overhead and underground collector lines, a 2-acre  operation and maintenance facility, three substations, internal access roads, access roads along generation tie-lines, a perimeter road, perimeter fencing, water storage tanks for fire protection, drainage control features, a potential on-site water well or a new water pipeline, and improvements to the existing NV Energy facilities to support grid interconnection.

1. The planned Gemini solar and battery storage site in Nevada, about 30 miles outside Las Vegas, is shown on Google Maps. Courtesy: Arevia Power and Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners

“This action is about getting Americans back to work, strengthening communities and promoting investment in American energy,” said Casey Hammond, an Interior Dept. official, in a news release. “Domestic energy production on Federal lands remains fundamental to our national security.”

Bernhardt, noting the damage to the U.S. economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, said, “Our economic resurgence will rely on getting America back to work, and this project delivers on that objective.”

David Scaysbrook, co-founder and managing partner of Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, one of the developers of the project, in an email to POWER wrote, “We are very pleased to have reached a satisfying and final seal of approval from the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management so that we can now take Gemini forward with confidence. This final decision officially clears the pathway for Quinbrook, and our development partners at Arevia, to accelerate completion of detailed project designs and procurement plans for one of the world’s largest renewables projects ever undertaken. Gemini offers the opportunity to showcase, at an unprecedented scale, what we believe to be one of the most promising technological advances in coupling battery storage to utility-scale solar power to produce low-cost renewable energy over the long term. Gemini will benefit all Nevadans by supporting jobs, stimulating the local economy and capturing the state’s abundant solar resources to deliver low-cost, renewable power to NV Energy customers.”

Project Was Delayed

Government officials on Monday praised the project’s approval, though federal sign-off on the installation had been delayed for months. The BLM earlier missed two deadlines to approve Gemini, in part due to an extended environmental review that included a look at the project’s impact on historical areas, including a railroad camp on the Moapa River Indian Reservation, and the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, used by early settlers moving through the area from the 1830s to the 1860s.

The BLM and Solar Partners XI in Monday’s news release said the groups have “developed measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts to other resources including, but not limited to, visual resources, cultural and tribal resources, recreation access and air quality.”

NV Energy already had negotiated a 25-year power purchase agreement rate of $38.44/MWh for the project. NV Energy in December 2019 secured approval from the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) for about 1.20 GW of new solar projects, including Gemini, along with 590 MW of energy storage capacity.

The solar power industry was quick to praise Monday’s approval. “Despite the challenges of the coronarivus, we’re pleased to see that Nevada will soon be home to one of the biggest solar projects in the world,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “The solar industry is resilient and a project like this one will bring jobs and private investment to the state when we need it most. We appreciate the work the Trump administration has done to make this historic project a reality.”

$712.5 Million Economic Impact

The Gemini project marks the third time the Trump administration’s BLM has approved a solar power project on federal lands. The agency approved an 80-MW project in Wyoming in June 2018, as well as a 550-MW solar farm near Joshua Tree National Park in California in November 2018.

2. The Bhadla Solar Park in located at Bhadla village in the Jodhpur district in Rajasthan, India. The solar farm encompasses more than 14,000 acres. It has been developed by several entities, including Rajasthan Renewable Energy Corporation Limited (RRECL), through its subsidiary, Rajasthan Solar Park Development Company Limited (RSPDCL); Saurya Urja Company of Rajasthan, a joint venture company of the government of Rajasthan and IL&FS Energy Development Company; and Adani Renewable Energy Park Rajasthan, a joint venture between the government of Rajasthan and Adani Renewable Energy Park. Source: Azure Power

Interior officials noted the project’s economic impact, saying the “on-site construction workforce is anticipated to average 500 to 700 construction workers, with a peak of up to 900 workers at any given time, supporting up to an additional 1,100 jobs in the local community and injecting an estimated $712.5 million into the economy in wages and total output during construction.”

The project’s construction timeline includes two phases. The first phase is expected to begin commercial operation next year, with both phases expected to be in operation in 2022. Gemini would be the world’s eighth-largest solar installation based on current rankings. The 2,245-MW Bhadla Solar Park in India (Figue 2) is the world’s largest solar farm, followed by the 1,547-MW Tengger Desert Solar Park in China.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).