I-Team: Proposed solar farm would be Nevada’s largest; opponents say public land should be off limits

I-Team

Battle Born would span 14 square miles, 9,000 acres on Mormon Mesa

OVERTON, Nev. — A proposed solar project in Southern Nevada’s Moapa Valley would be the state’s largest if built, but opponents are saying, “not in my backyard.”

The Battle Born Solar Project would span 14 square miles on the Mormon Mesa, a sprawling flat-topped hill 45 miles northeast of the Las Vegas valley. It’s Bureau of Land Management-owned land frequented by hikers, campers and ATV riders.

In 2019, Nevada voters mandated the state receive 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

“We are screaming at the top of our lungs to try to save this mesa,” Lisa Childs, founder of Save Our Mesa, said. Childs lives in the community at the bottom of the dramatic landscape. The planned Battle Born facility would cover more than 9,000 acres with panels, batteries and roads.

“I don’t want to look at 9,180 acres of solar panels when I come up here,” Childs said. The size of the project equals 150 Allegiant Stadiums, or two-thirds of New York City’s Manhattan Island.

“We traveled here for years even before we moved here,” Vanette Christensen, a member of Save Our Mesa, told the I-Team. Christensen just retired as president of the Moapa Valley Chamber of Commerce.

As water levels in Lake Mead dropped, the Moapa Valley lost part of its recreational and tourist draws, the reservoir’s Overton Arm. In 2006, the nearby Overton Beach Marina closed. Childs and Christensen said the local economy’s focus shifted to outdoor activities to be enjoyed on the mesa, which they said could be heavily impacted if the mega project is approved.

The Battle Born Solar Project would span 14 square miles on the Mormon Mesa, a sprawling flat-topped hill 45 miles northeast of the Las Vegas valley. (KLAS)

The area also draws tourists to “Double Negative,” a piece of art by Michael Heizer, entrenched on one end of the mesa in 1969.

Arevia Power, the company behind the project, said the arrays would be set back and not visible from the valley below. Some panels would reach 12-feet tall, pumping out 850 megawatts of electricity.

A spokesperson for the company said they would also work to make sure the mesa remains accessible for recreation.

“The argument for big systems is that they’re cheap,” Dr. Robert Boehm, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at UNLV, said. Boehm said he does not know enough about the Battle Born project to decide whether it should be built or not, but said its location plays an important part in the discussion.

The Mormon Mesa is south of the site of the decommissioned Reid Gardner plant. The generation site closed in 2014, but its trunk lines to the power grid remain. A spokesperson for NV Energy said the company does not have a plan to buy power from Arevia, but it is required under law to move its electrons through its network.

A view of Michael Heizer’s “Double Negative” from above. The piece of public art was entrenched on one end of the Mormon Mesa in 1969. (KLAS)

“I’m not against the renewable energy,” Childs said. “I’m just against losing this beauty.” Her comments are echoed throughout the valley – Save Our Mesa believes in moving toward solar power, just not in this environment.

The group also has concerns about unknown heat effects of the panels and the building of the array, including dust and the two-year timeline.

Other renewable options, like putting solar panels on car ports or garages, are expensive, Boehm said.

“I think when somebody wants to build this big of a plant that it’s got some potential that should be looked at, for sure,” he said. “The ugliness of it is in the eye of the beholder.”

A schematic design of the proposed solar panels. The panels would track the sun as it moves across the sky. (BLM)

Looking at the application is methodical. BLM identified potential conflicts with Battle Born in its initial review, deeming it a “low priority,” according to documents the I-Team reviewed.

“There’s a very thoughtful process that takes place by the agency, and the decision makes to ensure that careful balance on meeting the nation’s renewable energy goals and the state’s renewable energy goals while ensuring that these projects are cited appropriately,” explained Beth Ransel, a supervisory project manager at BLM.

While not specifically talking about the Battle Born application, Ransel said it can take many years of studies and input from the community about how to move forward on these projects.

“At various points in the application consideration, we engage with the public to identify what they see as conflicts,” Ransel said.

Just a stone’s throw away – about 20 miles – lies Arevia’s Gemini Solar Project. It is Nevada’s largest and sits in one of BLM’s solar zones. The company worked with the federal government to make the project succeed on public lands.

“I don’t believe public lands were ever intended to be solar farms, or any type of industry,” Childs said. “They were meant to be public lands for the public to enjoy.”

Arevia’s managing partner for the project was unable to be interviewed, a spokesperson said, but the company did answer the I-Team’s questions and provided a sheet, containing responses to common concerns.

The company estimates the project would create 2,600 jobs and provide daytime energy needs to 500,000 homes.

Response from Arevia Power over common concerns:

Impacts to off-highway vehicle use: Arevia will work to ensure the continued use of land in the vicinity of the project by OHV enthusiasts.

Potential “heat island effect”: Photovoltaic panels that will be used do not emit heat or light, so there will be no demonstrable impact.

Access to existing roads, trails, and to sites like Double Negative: Placement of the solar arrays is flexible, so impacts to roads, trails and access points can be minimized.

Visual impacts: The solar arrays are a maximum 12 feet in height and will be set back from the rim of the mesa, so that they will not be visible from the valley below.

Dust control: Significant dust mitigation programs will be utilized during construction and following construction, so dust will not be an issue.

Traffic impacts: Construction traffic will be directed to the Carp/Elgin road exit along Interstate 15, so there will be limited traffic impacts on the community.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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