Monday, Dec. 26, 2016 | 2 a.m.
As renewables develop, so do environmental concerns
While the economic potential of large-scale clean-energy projects is significant, they’ve been met at times with mixed feelings among conservationists who support renewables but worry about negative environmental impacts.
Regarding the TransWest Express project, the Wilderness Society raised concerns over encroachment on wildlife during the federal approval process with the Bureau of Land Management, which falls under the Interior Department. The department’s approval in December of TransWest express included mitigation to decrease impact on sage grouse.
“The silver lining is that BLM is requiring protection and restoration of wildlands and wildlife habitat to offset impacts,” Alex Daue, the Wildlife Society’s assistant director of energy and climate said in an email. “This demonstrates on-the-ground progress in implementing the agency’s guidelines for addressing the effects of energy development on our public lands.”
As part of a final push for clean energy in the remaining weeks of the Obama administration, the Department of the Interior approved a 728-mile power line Dec. 13 that will move wind energy from Wyoming to Southern Nevada. That wind power, which the federal agency says is enough to supply 1.8 million homes, could then be sold to Western states, especially California.
California is a key market for many clean-energy projects — even beyond its borders — because of its high renewables portfolio standard. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law requiring power providers to acquire 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030.
“California needs a lot of renewable energy and cost-effective renewable energy,” said Kara Choquette, a spokesperson for the wind-energy transmission project, known as TransWest Express. She explained that delivery of thousands of megawatts from a wind farm in Southern Wyoming to existing energy infrastructure in Nevada will optimally position sales of electricity to a variety of Western customers, similar to the Hoover Dam. Even if TransWest Express does not deliver its power to Nevada households, the state could benefit from an economic standpoint. The $3 billion project, crossing 140 miles of Nevada land in Lincoln and Clark counties, is projected to bring 250 construction jobs and generate $24 million in tax revenue.
Through a broad lens, the power line — expected to break ground in 2018, pending final state and federal permits — is an example of how Nevada might benefit from clean-energy development in the West, where most states have renewable standards. With large tracts of available land and abundant solar resources, Southern Nevada is host to several developments aiming to deliver solar energy out of state, including to California.
In early December, power providers First Solar and NextEra Energy Resources turned on a $1 billion Nevada solar plant that will supply energy to Southern California Edison. The large-scale solar plant in the Mojave Desert created more than 2,100 construction jobs, the companies said.
And during an interview with The Sunday in October, the CEO of California-based energy firm SolarReserve cited California’s renewable standard as an impetus for building a $5 billion solar project in Nevada that would cover about 15,000 acres and send energy back to the Golden State.
Although California’s more robust renewable standard could spur development in Nevada, UC Berkeley energy economist Severin Borenstein advised against conflating new development specifically to meet California’s needs with existing clean-energy development. He said “you want to make sure this isn’t changing the labels on renewables” that were existing or already slated for development, regardless of California’s renewable standard.
The TransWest Express project, for instance, has been under development since 2005, long before the 50 percent renewables portfolio standard. Projects on the scale of the transmission line, which spans four states, take years to develop, as organizers often need regulatory approval and permits from state and federal governments before breaking ground.
Clean-energy advocates argue that Nevada’s proximity to California is advantageous because it is such a large market for renewables. But they also caution that supplying other markets should not exclude continued development for Nevada.
“The more demand there is for renewable energy in the West, the more opportunity there is for Nevada,” said Andy Maggi, executive director of the Nevada Conservation League. “We have the sun. We have the space. We have the resources that make a good clean-energy economy.”