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Rural communities push back against solar projects in Nevada

November 30, 2021 GMT

PAHRUMP, Nev. (AP) — Residents of a desert town west of Las Vegas are protesting plans for a massive solar panel installation they say could harm the community and surrounding environment.

Citizens Against Nye Co Solar Farms Project held a protest on Saturday against the Rough Hat Nye County Solar Project in Pahrump, a town of fewer than 40,000 residents near the California-Nevada line.

“It seems illogical to me to destroy the environment to protect the environment,” organizer Jeannie Cox-King told NBC News.

A spokesperson for Candela Renewables, the company behind the proposal said the company understands concerns and believes it can balance them with what it sees as a need for more renewable energy.

Efforts to replace carbon-based fuels with renewable energy sources are raising uncomfortable questions over where to put needed infrastructure and provoked anger in soon-to-be frontline rural communities affected.

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Similar opposition has formed against large renewable energy infrastructure proposals in California, Utah and Virginia.

The Rough Hat project is one of several that local anti-development groups and environmental conservationists oppose on federal lands in southern Nevada.

At least eight solar projects have been proposed in Nevada’s two southernmost counties. In the Moapa Valley, residents helped thwart a plan to build the nation’s largest solar farm in July, claiming it would be an eyesore and could curtail recreation and tourism.

Residents against solar farms in their backyards often find willing partners in conservation groups such as Basin and Range Watch, which argue that environmental damage caused by renewable energy projects such as solar panels or lithium mines is too severe, especially when the power generated may be used to enable growth and more energy consumption.

“The idea that these projects are saving us from climate change is, at the very least, questionable,” said Kevin Emmerich, the group’s founder. “We’re not really thinking about true conservation.”

Damaging the desert’s crust can kick up massive dust storms. A company building a solar farm near Boulder City was fined $220,000 last week after local officials estimated up to 70 tons of excess dust has blown from its site.

Local pushback comes as state and federal officials set ambitious goals to increase renewable energy production. Nevada aims to transition to 50% renewables by 2030, which accounts for roughly 28% of its utility-scale electricity. Developers aiming to export energy throughout the region have rapidly scaled up investment in solar on federal land north of Las Vegas.

The Biden administration aims to permit 25 gigawatts of new solar, wind and geothermal power projects by 2025 and sent U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to tour southern Nevada and promote renewable energy in June.

One gigawatt of solar energy can power about 300,000 homes for a year.

The Pahrump Public Lands Advisory Committee is scheduled to discuss the topic on Tuesday evening.