The Largest Solar Project in the U.S. Gets Green Light

The Gemini Solar Project will be located in the Mojave Desert, near Valley of Fire State Park, pictured here.

The Gemini Solar Project will be located in the Mojave Desert, near Valley of Fire State Park, pictured here. Ken Lund/Flickr

The United States’ largest solar project to date received final approval from the Department of the Interior, clearing the way for the $1-billion, 690-megawatt array to break ground on federal land in the Mojave desert in Nevada, several news outlets reported. The project, which also includes battery storage, is expected to produce enough electricity to power 260,000 homes and offset the greenhouse gas emissions of about 83,000 cars annually, according to the Associated Press.

Construction of the Gemini Solar array is expected to start this year and last until 2022 or 2023. The first phase of the project will cover 11 square miles in the Mojave Desert about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Some conservation groups have fought the renewables project, arguing it will destroy thousands of acres of habitat for the federally threatened desert tortoise, as well as several other rare plant and animal species, including kit foxes, milkvetch plants, and burrowing owls.

“We believe solar energy can be an incredibly good thing, but if you put it in the wrong location it can be the worst thing in the world for the environment,” said Kevin Emmerich, director of the environmental group Basin and Range Watch, which opposed the solar array.

The project had also previously been delayed over concerns that it would impact a historic transportation route for early settlers of the American West.

Casey Hammond, principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Interior Department, told reporters this week that the Gemini Project “will provide jobs and economic growth at a time when many Americans and Nevadans are struggling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The project is projected to generate $713 million in economic activity and employ about 2,000 people during construction. Once built, it will employ 19 full-time workers. The energy is expected to either power homes in Nevada or be exported to Arizona and California.