Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2021

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Guest column:

Case is clear for advancing solar power in Nevada

Historically, Nevada has paid other states for coal and natural gas to burn and generate electricity for our homes, businesses and industries. But the Silver State is uniquely poised to launch a much better approach to meeting our energy needs — one that makes economic sense and protects the health of Nevada residents.

Nevada has more solar energy resources than any other state in the union, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

And the “fuel” cost for solar energy — sunshine — is zero. It’s abundant, and it never depletes.

And it’s not just solar energy potential where Nevada ranks first. We also have the highest concentration of federal public lands in the nation. More than four-fifths of our state is federal public land, and much of this land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

As we look for solutions to preserve clean air and water and to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change, it’s obvious that we must look beyond burning fossil fuels to power our communities. We cannot afford to sit out this tremendous opportunity to leverage Nevada’s combination of plentiful public lands and renewable energy resources. With smart planning, renewable energy projects can provide the state with everything from jobs and increased revenue to a cleaner environment.

The BLM should take the lead on this effort to promote the development of renewables, while preserving Nevada’s magnificent landscapes and wildlife. That requires steering new industrial renewable energy projects to the right locations, maximizing energy generation, while minimizing negative impacts to the wild lands that make our state so beautiful.

BLM solar zones have been established in several western states to help streamline the permitting and review process for new solar power plants. The zones are developed through a multiple-stakeholder participation process, taking in the concerns of local residents and businesspeople, developers, conservationists and elected officials.

The Dry Lake Solar Zone, located on approximately 3,000 acres of BLM land northeast of Las Vegas, is an example of this type of planning. It won wide support because it’s located in an area already crisscrossed by highways, transmission lines and other energy development — limiting impact to sensitive wildlife habitat while ensuring the development of the area’s rich solar energy resources.

First Solar Inc. built a 179-megawatt utility-scale solar power system that now generates affordable power for about 46,000 homes in the Las Vegas area and provides millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues. Two other solar projects are also planned for the zone.

By updating its Resource Management Plan to create more solar zones and establish protections for key wildlands and wildlife habitat, the BLM can help create even more success stories in other parts of Southern Nevada.

The proposed Dry Lake East zone, located across the highway from Dry Lake, could be next. While it is encouraging to see progress on one new zone in Clark County, BLM should invest in designating additional zones in appropriate, lower-impact locations in Southern Nevada, and that includes Nye County as well.

Nevada’s elected officials and utilities are considering measures to increase the state’s renewable energy generation capacity significantly. Nye County believes that speeding up the designation of BLM solar zones in Nevada and increasing financial and permitting incentives for projects in these zones will help the state meet ambitious new energy goals in a beneficial, cost-effective manner.

Darrell Lacy is the Nye County director of natural resources and federal facilities.