U.S. Approves Giant Solar Project in Nevada

Gemini project will have capacity to power all Las Vegas homes

WASHINGTON—The Interior Department has given final approval for what it says will be the largest solar-power project in the U.S., a $1 billion installation in Nevada that could power about 260,000 households—enough to cover the residential population of Las Vegas.

The project has financial backing from NV Energy Inc., a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, a private-equity firm. The two firms signed a 25-year deal last year to take the solar farm’s output of 690 megawatts.

Major business consumers have been clamoring for more wind and solar power to help slow climate change and lower bills. Nevada last year joined several states that have passed laws committing to emissions-free power, mandating that half of its electricity must come from renewables by 2030.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed approval Monday for what is called the Gemini Solar Project to go forward on 7,000 acres of federal land in the desert 33 miles northeast of Las Vegas, the Interior Department said.

It touts the project as a boon to the economy and the environment, with the potential to employ up to 900 construction workers and produce emissions-free power to offset the greenhouse-gas output of 83,000 cars.

“That project would be a major producer of energy,” Mr. Bernhardt said. “I’m glad that we’re getting this out, and it’s really part of our effort to foster jobs.”

Construction was originally set begin one month after final approval, with the first phase expected to be completed within a year, and full operation by 2023. Mr. Bernhardt warned, however, that the coronavirus pandemic might delay that timeline.

While President Trump has shrugged off dire scientific warnings about global warming, the administration has also proposed cutting red tape on environmental reviews and says Gemini fits with its priority of facilitating investment in important infrastructure projects.

Gemini is unique among the country’s largest solar projects in that it includes major battery capacity to keep feeding the grid overnight, an emerging trend among new solar projects, according to an arm of energy-consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

“It’s just a monstrous project,” said Colin Smith, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie. “I see it as the next step. We’re going to keep seeing bigger and bigger solar.”

Berkshire is also invested in the biggest operating U.S. solar farm, Solar Star, a 586-megawatt project outside Los Angeles. Its offtake partner on Gemini, Quinbrook, focuses on lower carbon and renewable-energy infrastructure, with offices in Houston, the U.K. and Australia.