When the Gemini Solar Project was approved earlier this year, developers touted it as the largest solar project in the country.
Well, there’s one on the table now even bigger.
It’s called the Battle Born Solar Project, and it’s planned to occupy 9,000 acres of the Mormon Mesa in the Moapa Valley, which is about two hours northeast of Las Vegas.
That has some residents in the nearby towns of Overton and Logandale pretty upset. They’ve banded together to form the protest group Save Our Mesa.
The mesa runs between the Muddy and the Virgin rivers. It occupies the space before the rivers come together and run into Lake Mead.
The group held a rally last Saturday. Organizers say between 100 and 150 people attended the rally during the day. However, at one point the group dispersed to so they could record video of the mesa and the protest using a drone.
One organizer, Lisa Childs, was also gathering signatures for a petition against the solar array. Childs said she got nearly 100 signatures, but after verifying the signatures for eligible voters, there were between 60 and 70 signatures.
Those opposed to the solar array have a lot of problems with it, Childs said.
"It's a special place. It's a unique place. There's not any place like this in America," she said, "It is a very unique piece of land. But my issue is, when I first heard about it, the biggest thing is the health issue. And the human factor of this. We're going to be sandwiched between two solar farms. There's no studies out there. There's not enough studies to know what this going to do to our community."
Childs explained that if the solar power plant goes forward they would be surrounded by big solar projects, and they're concerned about the construction, which will raise a lot of dust and potentially spores that cause Valley Fever.
They're also worried about the ambient air temperature being raised by the number of solar panels. Childs said she has found research that shows that many solar panels could raise the temperature as much as 7.5 degrees.
The organizers of the rally aren't saying that they know for certain that these problems will arise from the solar array, but they are worried. They also say there hasn't been enough research to know the impacts of having a solar farm that large that close to a town.
Childs said the solar plant will be about a mile and a half from the nearest town.
Besides health concerns, residents in the two towns are worried about the economic impact.
"This project will close many of those accesses, will restrict race abilities, and when those racers don't come here, and they have to find alternate locations, then we don't have people in our hotels, we don't have people in our gas stations, we don't have people that come in that spend their dollars really supporting our community," said Vanette Christensen, president of the Moapa Valley Chamber of Commerce. "We are rural, and we depend on those dollars for a lot of our survival for some of the localized businesses, and the impact can be very devastating."
Residents of Logandale and Overton are concerned they won't get people out to the mesa for off-road races and other activities if a large solar array is built there.
They are also concerned it will limit access to the "Double Negative," the art project created by world-renowned landscape artist Michael Heizer. There is concern that the towns could lose as much as 60 percent of their tourism dollars.
In addition, a conservation group has joined the cause. Basin and Range Watch had people at the protest last Saturday. They're concerned about desert tortoises, which they believe there are more of than previously thought. Beyond the tortoise, they say there are Gila monsters in the area along with several bird species. The group does not want to see the habitat of those species disturbed.
Basin and Range Watch would like to see more distributed solar rather than investor-owned developers creating huge, centralized generation projects.
Battle Born is purposed to be an 850-megawatt energy system with battery storage. It will cover around 14 square miles, which is 7,000 football fields. That compares to Gemini’s 690 megawatts and will be 7,100 acres when it’s completed.
The project is being developed by a company called Arevia Solar, which is based in California. The same group that is building Gemini Solar.
Representatives of the company were at an October meeting of the Moapa Town Advisory Board. At the meeting, they stressed the positive impact they believe the project will have on the communities.
They say that it is going to create more than 1,200 jobs and a $350 million positive economic impact on the area.
Christensen disputes those job numbers. She said many of those jobs would be specialized and not go to people in the communities.
With all of that, there is the obvious impact that having more solar power will have on efforts to address climate change. More solar power also helps the state achieve its renewable energy goals.
For now, those opposed to the project are trying to get public awareness and support. The project needs to go through several more hurdles, including a public comment period. Opponents hope there will be enough pushback during that time.
Save Our Mesa has also reached out to county and township officials to get their concerns heard.
Assemblywoman Annie Black, who represents the area, was at the protest to gather information and listen to what her constituents had to say.
From Fifth Street: Not On My Mesa
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