By VERNON ROBISON
Plans for a 9,200-acre industrial-grade solar power generation facility atop the Mormon Mesa were scrapped last week. Solar Partners VII, LLC, the sponsor of the proposed Battle Born Solar project formally withdrew its application last week in a letter to the field manager of the BLM Las Vegas Field Office.
The news, which was released on Wednesday morning, July 21 by BLM officials, caused feelings of victory and elation for many local residents opposed to the project.
“We won!” exclaimed Moapa Valley resident Lisa Childs in an interview with The Progress on Wednesday. “All of our unified efforts as a community over the past year have finally paid off!”
Childs was the leader of a local resistance movement against the Battle Born project which was simply called “Save Our Mesa.” Since April 2020, when the project was first publicly proposed by Arevia Power, a related entity of Solar Partners VII, Childs and fellow activist Kat Lounsbury staged a near community-wide protest movement.
The effort included extensive research on the issues, aggressive social media campaigns, the planning of community events, banding together with other conservation groups, contacting elected officials, pleading the case to regional and national media outlets and more.
“A lot of people told us that this was a hopeless battle that we couldn’t win,” Childs said. “But we were not going to give up on it. This is our community and we weren’t going to just let this happen without a fight.”
Just recently, Childs organized a massive letter writing campaign to the Secretary of the Department of Interior (DOI).
“We had gotten wind that Arevia was making an appeal of their application, over the heads of the BLM, to the DOI,” Childs said. “So we decided to bury the DOI with opposition letters from the public. We put it out on every communication channel we could for people to write letters to DOI Secretary Deb Haaland, expressing how much we, the next door neighbors to this project, were unhappy with it. I don’t know if that was what finally did the trick. But it couldn’t have hurt.”
At a proposed 850 megawatts, the Battle Born project would have covered more than 14 square miles of the mesa immediately adjacent to the Logandale and Overton communities. At buildout, it would have been the solar project largest in the state. Arevia is currently behind a 690 megawatt solar project called Gemini, being located on 7,000 acres of BLM land east of I-15, just south of the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza.
A written statement released by Solar Partners VII, LLC on Thursday said that the company “withdrew the application for the Battle Born Project to relocate it to a more optimal site with better proximity to transmission. Several sites are under consideration.”
In an interview on Thursday morning, BLM spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon said that Battle Born had faced a host of “resource conflicts” identified by the BLM, which had continued to go unresolved by the applicant.
These included more than 600 sites of cultural value existing on or near the proposed project.
“There were about 53 sites there that would be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places,” Cannon said. “As well as 555 isolated fire-affected rock features that would be more Native American primitive sites.”
Other identified resource conflicts included the proximity of the Old Spanish Trail, stated conflicts and concerns from Native American tribal leaders, desert tortoise habitat, additional threatened and endangered species in the area, the Double Negative art installation, livestock grazing allotments, significant geological interest, important visual resource inventory and, of course, the voluminous public and stakeholder comments that came in opposition to the proposal.
“Public comment and feedback on these project is always critical in the process,” Cannon said. “There were quite a few unresolved resource conflicts here and the public and stakeholder comments were definitely a big portion of that.”
Cannon said that a prioritization study of the 3 million acres managed through the Las Vegas Field Office was done last year to determine areas for solar development where the least resource conflicts exist. The Battle Born project rated as low priority in that study. This remained true both in the initial BLM ranking, and also after Arevia had provided additional information and formally requested reconsideration, Cannon said.
The BLM Las Vegas District, which covers parts of southern Nye County and all of Clark County, has maintained a robust renewable energy program due to the high demand for solar production in southern Nevada. By all indications, that trend won’t be slowing down anytime soon, Cannon said.
The district currently has 609 megawatts of renewable energy projects online already. Another 1340 megawatts are approved but not yet constructed. In the next two years, another 1600 megawatts are in the pipeline and being considered for a Phase 1. Beyond that, developers have indicated interest in building an additional 1,440 megawatts of utility-grade solar on public lands.
Cannon said that the Mormon Mesa land is still considered eligible for multiple-use leasing and that it could very well have a future application filed on it. But all of the outstanding resource concerns would have to be resolved.
“The issues that have arisen with Battle Born have been left unresolved as of now,” Cannon said. “They would need to be resolved before a project could move forward.”