Mammoth Solar Power Plant Drives Another Nail Into US Coal Coffin: Guess Who’s Holding The Hammer

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Every day is opposite day with the Trump administration, and so it is with energy policy. The Leader of the Free World sailed into office promising to save the US fossil fuel industry in general and coal jobs in particular, only to drop coal like a hot potato in favor of oil and gas. Now it looks like the whole kit and caboodle is going under the bus as the nation’s renewable energy sector cranks up. In the latest development, the Trump administration has just green-lighted the biggest solar power plant in US history. The 690-megawatt behemoth, dubbed Gemini, is also expected to make it into the top 10 biggest PV arrays worldwide.

solar power energy storage Nevada Gemini
A 690-megawatt solar power plant with energy storage is taking shape in Nevada (image via US BLM).

US To Get Its Biggest Solar Power Plant Ever

Before we get into the biggest solar power plant ever built in the US, let’s pause and consider the location. The Gemini Solar Project will take up 11 square miles in the Mojave desert about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. The parcel is located on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management under the US Department of the Interior.

Leasing out federal land (and water) for energy development is a cornerstone of US energy policy, and in that regard there is nothing unusual about peppering public land with thousands of solar panels. Still, conservation advocates have raised serious concerns about impacts on local habitat and wildlife. The US Army Corps of Engineers also took note of potential impacts in a public notice last year. Another red flag is the efforts of the Trump* administration to limit environmental reviews.

The conservationists raise a good point: there are plenty of opportunities to build smaller-scale solar arrays where something else is already built including rooftop solar systems and solar canopies for parking lots, landfills and other brownfields, and constructed ponds (for floating solar arrays).

Be that as it may, this particular project is moving forward, at least for now. As described in a DOI press release, the Record of Decision approving the new PV plant specifies a “hybrid alternative” that will reduce habitat impacts. If you want to know more about that, so do we. CleanTechnica is reaching out to the developer, Solar Partners XI, LLC (or whoever), to see what distinguishes the Gemini array from conventional ground-mounted solar panels.

Carrying Water For President Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Where were we? Oh right, the infinite Opposite Day. It’s no accident that the current occupant of the Oval Office is suddenly spinning some kind of weird “Obamagate” fantasy out of thin air right at this time.

It could be partly intended to distract from highly anticipated testimony in Congress on the COVID-19 crisis, or to cement the presidential choke-hold on the Department of Justice, but it also serves to bury the big news about the Trump administration’s role in promoting biggest solar power project in US history, complete with a massive energy storage system, too.

After all, Gemini represents another milestone in the clean power legacy that President Obama left for the next guy to carry out, and by all indications the last thing Trump wants to be is that guy.

Nevertheless it sure looks like he has done an admirable job of carrying Obama’s water, at least in the area of renewable energy.

Good work! To cite just one example, under Trump’s watch the Obama-era goal of revving up the US offshore wind industry is (finally) being realized along the Atlantic coast. Now the Energy Department is taking a good look at offshore wind for the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific coast, too.

Then there’s the ambitious new energy storage initiative launched by the Energy Department in January, which aims a dagger at natural gas power plants as well as coal.

For that matter, the Energy Department is still forging ahead with its goal of enabling every household in the US to access affordable solar energy by 2025. Presumably that includes 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as well.

More Solar Power For A Green COVID-19 Recovery

To rub salt in the wound, the folks over at the Interior Department are pretty clear on the significance of the green jobs angle for the new solar power plant, as the US picks up the pieces on the heels of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our economic resurgence will rely on getting America back to work and this project delivers on that objective,” enthuses Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in a DOI press release announcing the Gemini project.

“This action is about getting Americans back to work, strengthening communities and promoting investment in American energy,” chimes in Casey Hammond, who serves the DOI as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Exercising the Authority of the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management.

DOI also emphasizes that the new solar power plant will “facilitate critical infrastructure investments that will create jobs and economic activity and increase renewable energy, helping to meet Federal and state energy goals.”

In an interesting timing of coincidence, one of Trump’s pet job-creating fossil energy projects, the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, just suffered another potentially fatal blow in court this week. Obama put the kibosh on the pipeline and Trump tried to revive it, but so far no luck.

As for coal, the Commander-in-Chief has clearly thrown in the towel. The last time he made a big deal about coal was in his 2018 State of the Union address. In 2019 his speechwriters cut coal in favor of oil and gas, and coal got ghosted again in 2020.

Now that oil and gas are on the rocks, don’t expect any more cheer-leading about “US energy dominance” from 16oo Pennsylvania Avenue, unless it involves renewable energy.

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*Developing story.

Image (screenshot, cropped): Gemini Solar Project outline via US BLM.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3146 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey