Biggest Solar Energy Project in History of U.S. Approved by Trump Administration, with Giant Facility Set for Nevada

A large solar energy project in Nevada that is expected to generate enough electricity to power 260,000 homes has been green-lit by the federal government.

Upon its completion, around 2022, the Gemini Solar Project could be the eighth-biggest solar facility in the world. It has been described by officials from the Department of the Interior as being the "largest solar project in United States history."

The agency said the project will annually offset greenhouse emissions of about 83,000 cars, which is equivalent to roughly 384,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

The announcement comes after the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said a "milestone" in an energy transition had been passed in the U.S.

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed renewables including solar, wind and hydro generated more electricity than coal plants every single day in April this year, based on analysis that took place between March 25 and May 3.

A Gemini Solar Project record of decision—signed by the interior secretary David Bernhardt—approved Solar Partners XI, LLC to construct a facility about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

PV Magazine reported Arevia Power will be a second developer on the proposed land, which is on the Moapa River Indian Reservation. Environmental concerns have been addressed, including temporary relocation of dozens of native desert tortoises.

Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, investors in the project, confirmed the facility will host 690 megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays on up to 7,100 acres of land.

"Despite the challenges of the coronavirus, we're pleased to see that Nevada will soon be home to one of the biggest solar projects in the world," Abigail Ross Hopper, who is president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement.

"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."

The EIA, a division of the Department of Energy, said last year the U.S. produced about 11 percent of the 894 billion kWh of global solar electricity generated in 2018. In 2019, data suggests solar accounted for 1.8 percent of U.S. utility-grade electricity.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said the U.S. installed 13.3 gigawatts of solar PV capacity last year, reaching 77.7 gigawatts total installed capacity.

That is enough energy to power 14.5 million American homes. "Solar accounted for 40 percent of all new electric generating capacity added to the grid in 2019, more than any other energy source," the non-profit trade association explained in a blog.

Renewables are expected to become a larger share of U.S. electric generation than nuclear and coal in less than a decade, the EIA noted in January.

According to the Interior Department, the initial phase of power from the new Nevada facility could come online in 2021, with final completion within the following year.

Officials said the construction workforce is anticipated to average 500 to 700 people and the project could inject about $712.5 million into the state's economy.

In an online project specification, officials confirmed that the authorized solar facilities included a 380 MW solar-powered battery system that will be able to store and deploy over 1,400 megawatt hours, which "can be used when the power is needed most."

Bernhardt said approval followed a public process that included consultations with regional tribes including Moapa Band of Paiutes, Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, Fort Mojave Tribe, Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Bishop Paiute Tribe, Colorado River Indian Tribes and Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.

Officials said the proposal meets conditions of Executive Order 13783, a set of energy plans that was signed by president Donald Trump in March 2017. "It is in the national interest to promote clean and safe development of our nation's vast energy resources, while... avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production [and] constrain economic growth," the order stated.

"As our economy rebounds from the invisible enemy, President Trump is working to make the United States stronger than ever before," Secretary Bernhardt said in a statement, making a reference to COVID-19, the highly-infectious respiratory illness.

"Our economic resurgence will rely on getting America back to work, and [Gemini Solar Project] project delivers on that objective."

Las Vegas
Las Vegas Boulevard, also known as the Las Vegas Strip, including the Mandalay Bay, the Luxor, MGM Grand, other hotels and casinos that are part of the Las Vegas skyline, are seen in this aerial photograph over Las Vegas, Nevada, on September 5, 2013. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty