Desert Wildlands Need Your Voice in Vegas

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is hosting two public meetings on plans to mow down nearly 11 square miles of intact desert wildlands to build the Gemini Solar power project, which would be located northeast of Las Vegas along the entrance road to Valley of Fire State Park.  It will be very important for concerned citizens to attend because most environmental groups have taken a muted stance on the project, even though it is expected to displace up to 260 desert tortoises, and wipe out beavertail and silver cholla cacti, burrowing owl nesting locations and imperil a rare plant found in only a few places in the Mojave.

[UPDATE: These meetings have concluded, but you can still submit comments by e-mail up to September 5.  Scroll down for details on how to submit comments.]
Any member of the public is welcome to attend the meetings, and public comment sessions are during the last hour of each session:

Public Meeting #1 - Las Vegas
When: Tuesday, July 23rd, 5:00 - 8:00 PM
Where: Suncoast Hotel and Casino, 9090 Alta Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89145

Public Meeting #2 - Moapa
When: Wednesday, July 24th, 5:30 - 8:30 PM
Where: Moapa Community Center, 1340 East State Highway 168, Moapa, NV 89025

If you cannot make it to these meetings, scroll to the bottom of this post for info on how you can send comments to the BLM via e-mail.


The above map represents an approximate footprint of the proposed Gemini Solar power project, superimposed on downtown Las Vegas.  This gives some perspective on how much wildlands the project will destroy, equivalent to leveling much of the Las Vegas strip, from the Mandalay Bay to north of the Stratosphere, and much of the airport.

Why is the Gemini Solar project a bad idea?:
  • There are many better places to install solar panels. Nevada has plenty of untapped rooftops, parking lots, and already-disturbed lands where we can generate clean energy without sacrificing wildlands.  The Gemini Solar project will line the pockets of utility company investors and the project developer, but ignore opportunities for average citizens to cut down their own utility bills through net-metering.
  • This company should not be given a free pass. The developer wants to build the Gemini Solar project on public lands outside of designated solar energy zones.  The BLM previously established areas deemed fit for utility-scale solar energy where there would supposedly be fewer impacts on wildlife and recreation opportunities.  The Gemini Solar project will not be built in one of those designated solar zones.
  • The 11 square mile project will be built on wildlands that host an incredible diversity of desert plants and animals. In addition to desert tortoises, there are burrowing owls, kit fox, badgers, loggerhead shrike, LeConte's thrasher, cactus wren, phainopepla, and lesser nighthawks.  Bighorn sheep are known to pass through and forage on the wildlands, and a significant portion of the rare threecorner milkvetch plant's known habitat would be lost or imperiled.  The BLM's own environmental analysis has determined that this project will have significant impacts on wildlife.
  • The company misleadingly promises to relocate tortoises back to the project site after construction.  Arevia Power suggests that vegetation mowed down to accommodate construction will re-grow underneath the solar panels and allow for tortoises to co-habitat on the industrial-scale project site.  See below for why this is misleading and will put wildlife at increased risk.
Mowing or Bulldozing?

Perhaps the most absurd aspect of the Gemini Solar project proposal is that the company promises to reduce impacts on wildlife by mowing vegetation on part of the site.  This proposal is a public relations stunt, not a scientifically sound method to preserve habitat.  Of the 11 square miles that Arevia Power plans to use for the Gemini Solar project, 7 square miles will be mowed and the remaining 4 square miles will be bulldozed.  Plants could be mowed down to 18 or 24 inches, according to the BLM's environmental analysis, and that would require tractors driving across much of the site.  This means that not only will plants be cut down or crushed by the vehicles, the soils will be compacted.

The developer wishfully promises that desert tortoises can again use the area where vegetation was mowed, but ignores the fact that after driving vehicles back-and-forth across 7 square miles of fragile desert habitat, cutting and crushing plants, tortoises will be left with a severely degraded landscape.  Soil compaction will make it difficult for desert plants to grow back, depriving tortoises of a food source.  All of this disturbance by vehicles will also increase the likelihood that non-native weeds take root.  Non-native plants - such as red brome and Sahara mustard - not only lack nutrients that tortoises need to survive, they also pose a fire hazard.

The BLM's environmental analysis provided this example of the kind of mowing equipment that would be used on the site.  The mowing activity almost certainly would result in the significant loss of plants to crushing and soil compaction, making the area unsuitable for most wildlife.
It is also not clear what the company's plan is for when they need to regularly access the site to wash solar panels and for other routine maintenance, again jeopardizing wildlife "reintroduced" to the site after construction. Nor is it clear who will pay for the repeated relocation of tortoises from the site when it is time to decommission or alter the solar project in 30 years when the company's lease on public lands ends.

It is irresponsible for the BLM, Arevia Power, and any environmental group to suggest that this construction technique will miraculously allow wildlife to thrive in a space dominated by solar panels and industrial activities. The best alternative is to leave these wildlands alone and install the solar panels on already-disturbed lands, on rooftops or over parking lots.

How to Submit Comments by E-Mail:

The BLM is also accepting written comments on the Gemini Solar project.  You can send comments by September 5 via e-mail to: blm_nv_sndo_geminisolar@blm.gov

Your e-mail should point out several issues that the BLM should consider in a revised environmental analysis of the Gemini Solar project:
  • Urge the BLM to select the "no action" alternative, which means the Gemini Solar project should not be built on desert wildlands.
  • If this project must be built on public lands, then the BLM should consider evaluating alternative locations, such as  existing solar energy zone or to already-disturbed lands identified by the EPA's RE-Powering America's Land initiative. 
  • The BLM should more carefully evaluate the claims that desert tortoises will be able to thrive on the site after vegetation is mowed, soils are compacted, non-native plants take root, and solar panels are installed.  The BLM's environmental analysis currently ignores how these negative impacts are likely to make it impossible to reintroduce desert tortoises or other wildlife to the site.
  • The BLM's analysis should also more thoroughly evaluate how construction of the massive solar project could risk genetic linkages across the desert tortoise's range.
  • The BLM's analysis should more thoroughly evaluate the potential impact of this project on golden eagle and desert bighorn sheep foraging habitat.  Bighorn and golden eagles have been known to traverse these wildlands.
  • No aspect of the project should be allowed to jeopardize habitat for the endangered threecorner milkvetch.  The plant's range is limited, and it does not make sense to risk the survival of a species to install solar panels that can just as easily generate electricity on rooftops.
It is also worth letting any of your elected officials know that you support policies that promote rooftop solar, and oppose the destruction of desert wildlands.

A map of the proposed Gemini Solar power project site, located northeast of Las Vegas.

How many parking lots in the Las Vegas metro area could use these solar canopies? Keeping vehicles shaded from the hot sun, generating clean energy, and sparing desert wildlands.

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