The Gemini Solar Project

Science Center Objects

The United States is developing renewable energy resources, especially solar, at a rapid rate. Although renewable energy development is widely perceived by the public as “green technology,” construction, operation, maintenance, and eventual decommissioning of facilities all have known and potential negative impacts to natural resources, including plant communities and wildlife. This is especially true in the fragile ecosystems of the Desert Southwest where large-scale solar energy development is occurring. Research on the effects of utility-scale solar energy facilities is necessary to maximize the societal benefits of renewable energy while minimizing negative effects on the environment. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists are conducting research to help address the renewable energy information needs of resource managers like the Bureau of Land Management.

Largest US Solar Project

The Gemini Solar Project (https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/interior-approves-plan-largest-solar-project-us-history) is located on Bureau of Land Management land in the northeastern portion of the Mojave Desert; approximately 25 miles northeast of the Las Vegas metropolitan area, in an unincorporated area of Clark County, Nevada. This Project would be the largest in US history (eighth-largest in the world) and includes the construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of a 690-megawatt (MW) alternating current (MWac) photovoltaic (PV) solar project and ancillary facilities. Project components include onsite facilities, offsite facilities, and temporary facilities needed during Project construction. The major onsite facilities are comprised of solar array blocks, substations, and operations and maintenance facilities. Electricity generated by the Project would serve Nevada Energy (440-MWac) and California delivery (250-MWac). Other project planning information can be found at: https://eplanning.blm.gov/public_projects/nepa/100498/173998/211417/Gemini_Revised_POD_.pdf

A map of solar energy potential in the United States

Concentrating solar energy potential (in kilowatt-hours per square meter per day [kWh/m2/day]) of the United States from Lovich and Ennen (2011. Wildlife conservation and solar energy development in the Desert Southwest, United States. BioScience 61:982-992.). The map shows the annual average direct normal solar resource data based on a 10-kilometer satellite-modeled data set for the period from 1998 to 2005. Refer to NREL (2011. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Dynamic maps, GIS data and analysis tools: Solar maps. [6 July 2011; www.nrel.gov/ gis/solar.html]) for additional details and data sources. The white outline defines the approximate composite ranges of Agassiz’s (west of the Colorado River) and Morafka’s (east of the Colorado River) desert tortoises (Murphy et al. 2011) in the United States, both species of significant conservation concern. This figure was prepared by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for the US Department of Energy (NREL 2011). The image was authored by an employee of the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC, under Contract no. DE-AC36-08GO28308 with the US Department of Energy. Reprinted with permission from NREL 2011.

(Credit: Jeff Lovich, Southwest Biological Science Center. Public domain.)

Plant and Animal Monitoring

Scientists at the USGS Southwest Biological Science Center will be conducting vegetation monitoring to document changes in vegetation that occur on the Gemini Solar Project site before and after construction and site maintenance, which includes vegetation being mowed and/or crushed under and between solar panels, and occasionally trimmed to prevent shading of solar panels. The monitoring includes documenting impacts to native plant species, including the endangered threecorner milkvetch (Astragalus geyeri var. triquetrus), and the abundance of invasive non-native plant species. The monitoring will incorporate changes to the physical condition of the site, including soil erosion, dust emission, temperature, and soil moisture. The Gemini Solar Project is translocating endangered Agassiz’s desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) before construction, and reintroducing tortoise to the site after construction is complete. Vegetation monitoring will inform habitat suitability upon reintroduction.

 

U.S. Geological Survey Research Ecologist Jeff Lovich holding a radioed desert tortoise at the Mesa wind farm near Palm Springs,

U.S. Geological Survey Research Ecologist Jeff Lovich holding a radioed desert tortoise at the Mesa wind farm near Palm Springs, California.

(Credit: Sheila Madrak, USGS. )