LOVELOCK, Nev. — In a 4-1 vote Feb. 5, the Pershing County Regional Planning Commission recommended approval of a Special Use Permit with conditions for the county's second industrial solar farm north of Lovelock.
The Pershing County Commission next will consider the project at a future date to approve or deny the permit.
Back on Dec. 5, 2019, the planning commission rejected an earlier permit application for the same project “because of the lack of information,” according to a staff report by Planning and Building Department Director James Evans.
This time, sPower Development Company, LLC delivered the details of the proposed 240-megawatt solar farm that would occupy about 2,154 acres of land zoned Agriculture-Mining-Recreation (AMR) four miles north of Lovelock and North Meridian Road.
The project includes 180 megawatts worth of battery storage to make solar power available for the grid even when sunlight is not available.
The sPower project appears to comply with county development codes, Evans said in his report.
The project site and surrounding land are “relatively rural and are a mix of vacant land and/or agricultural land,” according to the report. “There is an existing subdivision along the northeast boundary of the project site with some development. There are several parcels to the west, south and southwest of the project site (that) are currently being farmed or have residential activity on them.”
Planning Commissioner Carl Clinger was the lone vote against the special use permit due to the proposed solar farm's proximity to nearby homes, as well as concerns with heavy construction traffic likely to occur through downtown Lovelock as the project is built. Other residents also had concerns about traffic, as well as glare from the solar panels.
“I think, overall, he (Clinger) is in favor of solar,” Evans said in an interview with the Lovelock Review-Miner. “It's the location, the proximity to nearby houses. He would have liked to see it a little farther away from houses.”
Clinger confirmed he supports solar energy, but has many concerns about the sPower project.
“I ... feel this site location has too many issues and should be relocated,” he said in an email. “James was correct about my concern for the project being too close to housing. Also, there will be a considerable amount of time during the nine to 24 months construction period where up to 300 cars will be traveling through the center of Lovelock to go up North Meridian to the project site and back again each day.”
Clinger said he also is concerned about sPower's plan to install solar panels on top of an existing natural gas line and to install energy storage batteries below an NV Energy power transmission line.
“Their plan shows them putting solar panels over the top of the natural gas line which requires them to pile drive pipes into the ground. They have not vetted their plan with the gas company,” he explained. “Their plan also shows them putting their battery farm underneath the 345 Kv lines, nor have they discussed this with NV Energy.”
Further, Clinger believes sPower will need more than the estimated 10 acre-feet of water per year to clean dust off the array and may need to truck water in from Reno — again, through downtown Lovelock.
“They seem very naive about the amount of dust in the Lovelock Valley, as they stated they may only have to clean the glass on the solar arrays once per year,” he said.
JOBS, TAX REVENUE IMPACTS
Evans said the proposed solar farm is “consistent with the goals, policies and objectives of the Pershing County Master Plan.” No housing or other development has been proposed for the site of the sPower project, he said.
Existing public road access must be maintained including the road to Trinity Canyon, a popular area for deer and chukar hunting, Evans said. Other county requirements include upgrades to other existing roads, an agreement with the county road department and a traffic control plan.
A glare analysis and remediation plan will be submitted by sPower, though company officials did describe a similar sPower solar farm it operates Colorado where glare isn't an issue.
“In theory, there shouldn't be much glare because the panels are black and they track the sun,” Evans said. “The new technology is built to absorb the light instead of reflect it, and it's not supposed to create a whole lot of glare. They said there's a similar in size project right near the Denver airport. If there was an issue with glare, the FAA would never have let them install those panels that close to the airport. They are still going to do a glare study.”
Native and non-native vegetation will be cleared, but the sPower site is not home to any endangered plants or animals and will not impact wildlife migration corridors, Evans said.
“It's all vacant, it's all sagebrush and dirt,” he said. “It's not going to affect migratory routes of any deer or birds. The big benefit is property taxes.”
Along with much-needed tax revenues, other benefits for the county would come in the form of temporary construction work, as well as a few permanent solar farm operation and maintenance jobs.
“In the beginning, during construction, there could be as many as 300 jobs,” Evans said. “After construction, during operation, there might be two or three jobs. Most of the monitoring of the panels is done remotely out of Utah. If they get an error or a broken panel, they might need somebody to go out there.”
If the project is permitted by the County Commission and state agencies, construction could start in late 2022 with completion sometime in 2023.
State agencies that will consider the project include the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, Nevada Department of Environmental Protection and the Nevada Division of Water Resources.
According to Evans' report, sPower has lease agreements with a dozen landowners, including Western Nevada Cattle Feeders LLC, Hellas Properties LLC and Phillips Land Properties LLC. Solar farm construction and operations will require no more than 120 acre-feet of water and that will be purchased from local, private landowners, according to sPower's SUP application.
Pershing County Water Conservation District officials had no objections to the sPower project since the solar farm will be located outside of the irrigation district's jurisdiction, Evans said.
Meanwhile, construction has already started on the previously approved Invenergy solar farm on 1,735 acres near Oreana, about 20 miles north of Lovelock. The 190-megawatt Lovelock Solar Energy project is scheduled for completion in late 2022.
Based in Salt Lake City, sPower is an independent power company that owns more than 150 renewable energy wind, solar and storage projects producing almost 2 gigawatts of power across the country. The proposed North Meridian project appears to be the first sPower project in Nevada.
In 2019, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed state legislation mandating that 50 percent of the state's electricity be generated by carbon-free, renewable energy facilities such as wind, solar and water power by the year 2030 and 100 percent by the year 2050.