Nevada is making strides toward its renewable energy goals as it develops infrastructure to move power throughout the state, but some Nevadans worry the rush toward a less carbon-dependent energy supply is transforming the state’s public lands and rural communities for the worse.
Greenlink Nevada is an NV Energy-led initiative that would put up power lines to transport renewable energy around Nevada. Two main energy corridors make up the proposal: Greenlink West and Greenlink North. The former would connect Las Vegas to Yerington, spanning approximately 350 miles. The latter would connect Yerington to Ely, spanning 235 miles. Three smaller transmission lines would also be developed to move power from Yerington to Reno.
Greenlink West would be the first major line completed, with an in-service goal of December 2026. The project would be built near multiple rural communities, including Nye County’s Beatty, located at the entrance of Death Valley National Park. The area is home to several solar energy proposals that would span tens of thousands of acres of desert. The energy from these projects would be transported by the Greenlink West Transmission Line.
“We are concerned about the whole footprint of it all,” said Erika Gerling, chair of the Beatty Town Advisory Board. “The solar projects want to be here because of Greenlink.”
The Beatty Town Advisory Board has been vocal about their concerns regarding the solar developments. In multiple letters sent to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada by the board expressing their explicit opposition to the projects, several concerns were highlighted: the effect on the tourism economy, loss of uninterrupted desert views and dark skies, infringement on the ability of the town to expand, and damage to the desert ecosystem.
While these concerns were cited for the solar projects’ impacts, the same concerns extend to Greenlink West, according to Gerling. The town is particularly worried about the preservation of the nearby Amargosa River, home to the rare Amargosa toad that was saved from near-extinction thanks to community efforts. The town fears this progress could be reversed with the development of solar projects and the transmission line.
These environmental concerns will likely be addressed in the BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Greenlink West, preparation of which is scheduled to begin in late April. The agency expects a draft EIS to be ready for public review by October of 2022.
“I’m a little disturbed by how fast-tracked everything is,” said Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of the environmental organization Basin and Range Watch. “Both Democrats and Republicans talk about the environmental review process like it’s burdensome, but I don’t see it that way.”
The BLM considers Greenlink Nevada part of the state’s efforts to meet carbon reduction and renewable energy goals established under several bills, as described in Greenlink West’s plan of development. Among these is Senate Bill 358, which raises the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50% by 2030. This means all Nevada electric service providers must implement energy efficiency measures for at least 50% of the total electricity sold by the provider.
The deadlines to meet these goals explains the BLM’s rush to draft an EIS for Greenlink West, but conservationists like Emmerich worry this short timeline doesn’t allow enough time to adequately understand the effects of such a large project.
Other environmental organizations are also watching the impacts of the project closely.
“The Nature Conservancy is obviously concerned about development with the Greenlink West line, but it’s really too early to tell at this point what those impacts really look like,” said Peter Gower, Nevada strategy director of energy infrastructure and land use for the Nature Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy owns 7J Ranch, 900 acres of land near Beatty at the headwaters of the Amargosa River. The current proposal for Greenlink West would go directly through 7J Ranch, but several alternative routes have been proposed to avoid the site. Workshops hosted by the BLM over the past several months have been an opportunity for organizations and the general public to provide input on preferred alternatives to the current route.
“We have been in conversations with the BLM and we’ve shared our initial thoughts and considerations, so they’re aware,” Gower said.
In a July 2021 letter to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada regarding SB Solar, a solar project proposed for the Beatty area, Beatty Town Advisory Board chair Randy Reed wrote, “the BLM must require an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement as well as an archeological assessment to address any historic and or cultural artifacts in the project area. These are complicated, detailed studies and should not be rushed in an effort to expedite approval of the proposed project.”
The Beatty Town Advisory Board is currently writing a letter to the Public Utilities Commission about their opposition to Greenlink West, according to board chair Gerling. Town officials believe the predicted three-year construction of Greenlink West and the other years-long construction of solar projects placed a few miles outside of town will deter tourism and create unwanted traffic from construction crews. Gerling also said Beatty community members worry they will experience the burden of living near active construction sites while receiving none of the benefits.
“Every time we’ve been told that Greenlink is being built to get power to Reno and Northern Nevada, it really irks people because all this stuff is going to be right here, with us, and we are not going to get any benefit,” Gerling said.
According to a spokesperson from NV Energy, the power transported by Greenlink West will be provided to NV Energy customers. The company’s service territory stretches from Elko to Laughlin, covering 45,703 square miles. Beatty is not included in this area.
Concerned community members urge NV Energy and the BLM to consider alternative routes to Greenlink West and options to bury the power lines in areas where they would be above ground. Gerling said the Beatty Town Advisory Board is not opposed to renewable energy, but they don’t think it is acceptable to destroy the town’s economy in order to develop it. Gerling hopes NV Energy and the BLM will listen to these concerns before moving forward with construction.
“I’m worried that it’s going to be the same old story,” Gerling said. “The little guy is going to end up paying the cost for everything, whether it’s financial, emotional, or on the land.”
Claire Carlson writes about conservation and the environment for Sierra Nevada Ally and for various other publications. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno in International Affairs and a master’s from the University of Montana in Environmental Studies, where she focused on environmental writing. Support her work for the Sierra Nevada Ally.
Founded in 2020, the Sierra Nevada Ally is a self-reliant 501c3 nonprofit publication with no paywall, a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, offering unique, differentiated reporting, factual news, and explanatory journalism on the environment, conservation, and public policy, while giving voice to writers, filmmakers, visual artists, and performers. We rely on the generosity of our readers and aligned partners.