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SOURCE: Desert Advocate
DATE: March 8, 2021
SNIP: Energy companies are preparing to destroy nearly 16 square miles of intact desert wildlands in southern Nevada – an area equivalent to 70% of Manhattan or 28 times the size of the UNLV campus – for two solar projects outside of Las Vegas. Companies are setting up fencing and construction markers at the Gemini Solar project northeast of Las Vegas, and at the Yellow Pine Solar site south of Pahrump; crews will finish mowing and bulldozing these lands in a matter of months.

This habitat loss will continue a trend of severe fragmentation by energy and urban sprawl that threatens the viability and resilience of numerous wildlife species across the Mojave, and compounds the pressure wildlife face from climate change. Southern Nevada has already lost nearly 20 square miles to utility-scale solar development. The Gemini and Yellow Pine solar projects are the latest, but not the last massive projects proposed on public lands here. The proposed Battle Born Solar project would carve up another 14 square miles of habitat northeast of Las Vegas, if approved. Energy companies have submitted proposals for several other projects in the region in response to the states renewable portfolio standard. Throw in plans for expanded lithium mining to feed our battery storage demand, and the toll on Nevada wildlands grows further.

This is not the first time a renewable energy rush has threatened ecosystems in the southwest, but Nevada has resisted policy solutions that are known to reduce pressures on wildlands. A lack of of science-based land management planning, as well as a state capital that is allergic to distributed generation policies has allowed utility companies and energy project developers to select sites with little concern for impacts on wildlife. The Gemini Solar project, for example, is expected to destroy 25% of the remaining habitat of the imperiled threecorner milkvetch on public lands. The Gemini project will also mow down land previously identified by the Fish and Wildlife Service as a priority habitat linkage for the desert tortoise; biologists have been sounding the alarm that the tortoise population continues to spiral downward as a result of multiple factors, to include habitat loss.

Despite this astonishingly fast pace of habitat destruction for energy sprawl, there is very little overt pressure on Federal and State-level authorities to address the issue. A review of press releases over the past two years from national environmental organizations active in Nevada reveals no mention of the Yellow Pine or Gemini Solar projects.