While President Donald Trump has criticized renewable power as unreliable and expensive, his administration has quietly approved a string of solar and wind projects.
The Department of the Interior plans to approve construction of the largest solar farm in the country in the next 90 days, the Bureau of Land Management said this week. The 690-megawatt Gemini facility will be built by NV Energy on 7,100 acres of federal land northeast of Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert. The facility will include one of the largest power storage systems — 380 megawatts of four-hour lithium-ion batteries that can store power for use after dark, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Trump’s rhetoric isn’t stopping venture funds from pouring millions into renewable energy projects and startups, especially sunpower. At least $8.9 billion was raised for investments in so-called cleantech, which includes solar, in 2019, according to Pitchbook.
Sun power generates about 2% of total U.S. energy output, with another 10 gigawatts of capacity expected to be installed by the end of this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.
The Bureau of Land Management released its final environmental impact statement for the project on Dec. 27 after the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada approved NV Energy’s proposal on Dec. 4.
“The proposed Gemini Solar Project would represent a significant increase in renewable energy capacity for Nevada and the West,” BLM Southern Nevada District Manager Tim Smith said in a statement announcing the bureau’s draft environmental review.
Conservation groups have raised concerns about environmental assessments that warned of permanent damage to native plants as well as expected deaths of tortoises, foxes and owls.
Under President Obama the bureau rejected the project under an accord with conservationists that protected sensitive land from wind and solar development. The Trump administration indicated it would scrap that agreement in February 2020.
Trump himself has used the topic of renewable energy as the basis for jokes at his rallies, getting big laughs. “When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric. ‘Darling is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television,'” he said at one gathering.
“The proposed Gemini Solar Project would represent a significant increase in renewable energy capacity for Nevada and the West.”
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed a bill last year that requires utilities to get half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and set a goal for 100% zero emissions from power generation by 2050. NV Energy, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy and the state’s biggest energy producer, said that 24% of its electricity came from renewables in 2018.
If approved, this will be the third solar project approved by the Trump administration, which also include the 500 megawatt Palen Project in California and the 80 megawatt Sweetwater Project in Wyoming.
- Enel Green Power North America began operations of the first 252 megawatt phase of its Roadrunner solar project in Texas in December. Construction of the 497 megawatt project began in February and it will be the largest operational solar farm in Texas when completed in late 2020.
- The Solar Energy Industry Association released a study on Dec. 4 that found that Trump administration’s tariffs on imported panels would cost 62,000 jobs and $19 billion in clean energy investments between 2017 and 2021.