By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
The northeastern Clark County region may soon be home to yet another utility-scale solar power facility. A public scoping meeting was held on Thursday evening in Moapa for the Gemini Solar project, a 7100 acre facility planned for an area just south of the Moapa Paiute Reservation along the Interstate 15 corridor.
Public turnout at the meeting was scant with only a handful of area residents coming to the Moapa recreation center to review the plans. Nevertheless, a full array of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff and experts stood at the ready to answer questions from the public on nearly every facet of the proposal.
Gayle Marrs Smith, Las Vegas Field Office manager for the BLM explained that the purpose of the scoping meeting was to gather issues and concerns from the public to be included in the process.
“We from the BLM might think that we are aware of all of the issues involved in something like this,” Marrs Smith said. “But it is the people who are living closest to the site who know the best. So all of this is done for us to listen to you, the public.”
The Gemini project would spread across an expanse of largely flat desert lying on the east side of I-15 between the Paiute Travel Plaza and the Apex Industrial area. At full build-out it would cover thousands of acres with double axis photovoltaic panels, similar to those at the First Solar plant which is currently in operation on tribal lands on the other side of I-15.
But Gemini would be more than twice the size of First Solar. The proposed plant would be built on 7100 acres compared to only 2,000 acres of First Solar. Gemini is expected to have a generating capacity of approximately 690 megawatts of power as opposed to about 250 megawatts from First Solar.
The Gemini facility would also include transmission lines to tie it to the regional power grid at Crystal Substation just to the north, which is owned and operated by NV Energy.
An important difference between Gemini and many other solar generating facilities is an anticipated use of cutting-edge battery technology. Each one of the hundreds of photovoltaic panels planned at Gemini will be connected to a special battery. That way, energy generated during the peak production period of the early afternoon can be stored for use during the highest demand period in the early evening.
Current battery technology has reached a point where energy generated from photovoltaic panels can be stored for a period of as much as 4-6 hours before experiencing a fall-off, according to Ricardo Graf, a managing partner of Arevia Power, the California-based company developing the Gemini project.
What’s more, complex software has been developed to regulate each battery in gathering and then distributing the stored power appropriately and efficiently, Graf added.
“The battery technology and the software that goes with it, is revolutionizing how we think about solar power,” Graf said.
At full buildout, the Gemini plant could produce enough power to service tens of thousands of homes, Graf said.
But the company is still far from having a buyer for all of that energy, he said.
“It is still very early in the process and we have a long way to go before we get there,” Graf said.
First the company must secure rights to the site from the BLM. This begins with the Scoping process currently underway. The process then proceeds with the thorough study of a long list of environmental, cultural, historic, recreational and many other impacts. Wildlife species must be studied and their impacts taken into account. Not least of these is the desert tortoise which inhabits the area. Also surveys have been done on nesting sites for eagles in the area and the project’s impacts on them.
The project flanks both sides of the highway to the Valley of Fire State Park. This roadway is also the gate to the Bitter Springs Back Country Byway. In addition, the route of the Old Spanish Trail runs through the middle of the proposed solar site. These routes must be dealt with in planning the project, access must be maintained and impacts to visual and recreational resources must be mitigated.
Other nearby resources must also be considered in the planning process. These include the close proximity of the Muddy Mountains Wilderness Area, Valley of Fire State Park and the Moapa Band of Paiutes reservation.
After all of these impacts are considered, the company will seek final permits from the BLM, Graf said.
Then an agreement must be reached with NV Energy to connect to the grid and transmit the power. Only then will the company be ready to enter a power purchase agreement with a customer, or customers, to buy and utilize the power, Graf said.
When that agreement is in place, financing can be arranged and construction can begin, Graf said.
If all goes well through the process, Arevia is hoping to be able to proceed with construction by late in 2019. According to Graf, the construction phase, which would span a 2-3 year period, is expected to support around 2,200 total jobs including both direct construction jobs and those needed in providing all ancillary services to the project.
“Our studies have shown that the project will bring a total of $436 million in GDP affect to the state of Nevada and $40 million in tax benefits,” Graf said.
Public comment for the Scoping phase of the project will be open until August 27. Information about the project is available at https://gousa.gov/xntTQ. Comments may be made by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; by fax at 702-515-5010 Attn: Herman; or by mail to BLM Southern Nevada District Office; Gemini Solar Project EIS; 4701 N. Torrey Pines Dr.; Las Vegas, NV 89130.