SOURCE: Reno News and Review
DATE: May 22, 2021
SNIP: The Gemini Project, an 11-square-mile solar energy array to be constructed on federal land near the Valley of Fire State Park in Southern Nevada, has received preliminary approval from regulators. The photovoltaic panels, arranged like a vast lake of mirrors in the desert, are to be built on land occupied by the tortoises and other rare and protected species.
Plans call for some of the desert tortoises to be removed from the site prior to construction; hundreds of others, including eggs, hatchlings and juveniles, will be crushed when the desert vegetation is scraped off or mowed down.
Gemini, and other projects like it, is representative of the collision of renewable energy technology with environmental and social concerns. The expansion of biofuels may take land away from essential food production; the extraction and processing of lithium may result in more pollution, and lithium batteries can’t be economically recycled. Geothermal plants and wind farms also have adverse environmental consequences.
The Mohave is home to the desert tortoise, listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The adult reptiles may weigh up to 15 pounds and have a lifespan of 80 years. Biologists note that the animal is an indicator species, whose well-being is a measure of the overall viability of the Mojave ecosystem.
The land earmarked for the Gemini project is part of a migration area for the reptiles. Hundreds of them winter in burrows at the site. Biologists note that migration is essential for the species to prevent inbreeding, which can lead to species decline.
Emmerich, of Basin and Range Watch, said the Gemini site is near other solar project areas, transmission lines and highways that together will be a barrier to tortoise migration. He said clearing the land for the project will doom a significant number of the reptiles and disrupt the habitats of other plant and animal species.
Other plant and animal species also will be impacted by the project, he said, including birds who will mistake the glittering solar farm for a lake and collide with the panels. The tortoises, though, are the major concern, because the species has been spiraling toward extinction.