Nevada Gets Another Tourist Attraction: 3 Big Solar Projects

Las Vegas could attract a new kind of tourist, one that wants to see the three, big solar plants that will soon be built just 15 miles to the north.  

The first three utility-scale solar projects have been chosen for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone, an area set aside as the best fit for large solar plants.

At 440 megawatts, the three solar PV projects will serve 132,000 homes, and create about 1900 construction jobs.

Blue dots are the solar energy zone:

Solar Energy Zone

Because the Department of Interior (DOI) analyzed and set aside public lands for this purpose, permits are streamlined under the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Western Solar Plan.

Under the Western Solar Plan, solar projects are sited in areas with the highest solar potential, easy access to transmission lines, and the least impact on ecosystems. Because all this is determined in advance, expedited reviews of the three projects took less than 10 months – about half the time it typically takes to evaluate projects one at a time. 

This landscape level approach is called "Smart from the Start," and is also the basis for siting areas for offshore wind.

The projects, chosen by competitive bids, will net $5.8 million in leases, and be completed by the end of 2016.

  • Harry Allen Solar Energy Center (Invenergy Solar Development): 134 MW on 715 acres
  • Dry Lake Solar Energy Center (NV Energy): 150 MW on 660 acres
  • Playa Solar Project (First Solar): 200 MW on 1700 acres

A "robust" set of mitigation measures are required, says BLM, to avoid, minimize, or compensate for unavoidable adverse impacts. In addition, developers will fund long-term tortoise monitoring, post-construction monitoring of birds and bats in accordance with its Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy, salvage and relocate endangered plants, and take steps to reduce visual impacts.

DOI says all the projects are PV solar because it learned lessons from the nearby Ivanpah concentrating solar plant, which has turned into a death trap for birds.

Last year, NV Energy announced it would close four coal plants and re-direct investments to renewable energy and natural gas. 

Read our article, Nevada’s Innovative Incentives Helping it Lead on Renewable Energy.

The Western Solar Plan consists of 19 Solar Energy Zones across six states, covering more than 298,000 acres of public land. If fully developed, as much as 27 gigawatts (GW) of energy could be produced, powering 8 million homes. 

In 2013, President Obama issued an executive order directing DOI to approve at least 20 GW of renewable energy on public lands by 2020. Since 2009, 55 solar, wind, and geothermal  projects have been authorized, totaling 14.6 GW. If they are all built, they will have leveraged private investments of roughly  $36.6 billion.

Not everyone is thrilled with these enormous solar projects, which inevitably destroy habitat. In California, communities are resisting, sending DOI back to re-visiting its plan for that state.

Learn more about the Western Solar Plan:

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