Largest US Solar Project Cancelled On Aesthetic Grounds

Highlights :

  • The cancellation marks the biggest pushback to a solar project in the US till date.
  • Local resistance to projects is not unique to the US, and is an issue in higher population areas like India too.
Largest US Solar Project Cancelled On Aesthetic Grounds

Virtually every large power generation option has faced objections at some stage, from locals in nearby areas. Solar just joined that list decisively, with the largest planned solar project in the US, the proposed 850 MW  Battle Born Solar Project, being scrapped after local objections.  This comes barely a month after Australia had pulled back on a massive $36 billion project recently on environmental grounds.

Arevia Power, the project developer has  withdrawn its application with the federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the Moapa Valley hilltop where the panels were planned. As recently as early 2020, the state governor had been pushing for expediting work on the project. The 850 megawatt, 9,200-acre solar farm, which would have been constructed in southern Nevada’s Moapa Valley, was to sit on 14 square miles on the Mormon Mesa, a flat-topped hill around 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

At issue was the fear of local residents who organized themselves under a  “Save Our Mesa” banner, that the  large solar plant would be an eyesore and could curtail the area’s popular recreational activities — biking, ATVs and skydiving — and also deter tourists from visiting sculptor Michael Heizer’s land installation, “Double Negative”, a key area attraction. The developer claims that the pant was to be set back far enough to not even be visible from the valley housing the same.

For Nevada, which has abundant sunshine and wind, the setback will be a blow, as relocating such projects will not be simple. The Battle Born Solar project would have been a good step towards the state’s target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Solar has always faced resistance mainly owing to the amount of land it consumes, at anything between 4-5 acres per MW. However, that has been set off versus its relatively benign, zero emission status. Wind energy has always faced resistance, especially onshore wind, which was one reason offshore wind energy got an extra push. Though even  that is facing headwinds now  from coastal residents blaming them for spoiling the horizon view. Fishermen too are joining the chorus, as it places key fishing grounds off limits in many cases.

Nuclear and thermal of course have always had their detractors for the pollution they cause, with nuclear virtually demonised in both popular media and films.

It is ironic that Hydro power, which seemingly escapes censure due to being located well away from population clusters, could effectively be causing the most damage  in many cases, thanks to its impact on the local environment, and long term consequences of blocking rivers. In terms of actual fatalities too, Thermal and Hydropower related accidents will comfortably beat say, nuclear power accidents, but it says something for the power of narrative building that action doesn’t follow the same trajectory.

In India too, resistance to giant solar parks has been building up in recent times, though aesthetics is never the reason here. Rooftop solar, an elegant way out has never been pushed wholeheartedly by governments for reasons best known to them. Most of East India, with its limited land that can be categorised as barren, is behind on the solar curve partly due to the same issue of land availability.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International