A contender for the largest solar plant in the U.S. is still waiting for a key permit after a federal agency missed its March issuing deadline.
The Gemini Solar Project, a 690-megawatt array Arevia Power is developing in Nevada, needs a Bureau of Land Management permit pertaining to its impact on historic sites, according to reporting from Reuters. The delay for that permit, called Section 106, has paused a review from the Army Corps of Engineers required under the U.S. Clean Water Act. In January, the Department of the Interior indicated it would give final approval to Gemini, despite some concerns from conservation groups about environmental impacts.
Both the developer and Nevada utility NV Energy, the project's offtaker, said the BLM holdup should not impact the project’s overall timeline. Backed by investor Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, the project's PPA with NV Energy was approved by state regulators in December.
It's unclear if the coronavirus slowed down the Bureau of Land Management's permit process for Gemini. But the current pandemic is likely to extend deadlines for numerous other large-scale projects in the U.S., as its impacts creep from weeks to months.
Ricardo Graf, managing partner at California-based Arevia, said the virus has not impacted the developer’s timelines for Gemini or any other projects in the works. The company did not comment on whether it was considering the potential for any force majeure claims, an option that large-scale developers are increasingly eyeing as a possibility as the coronavirus throws timelines off-track.
Though the federal government has categorized solar maintenance and construction among “essential” businesses that can continue work during shutdowns, some work delays are nearly guaranteed due to supply chain snags and construction slowdowns. Depending on the unfolding impact of the virus, delays could hit between 2 and 5 gigawatts of large-scale solar projects, according to recently released analysis from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.
In the prevailing environment of uncertainty, utilities, permit offices and other stakeholders are unlikely to prioritize the advancement of projects above more pressing activities, like ensuring they can respond to electricity demand.
BLM declined to offer a specific permitting timeline for the Gemini project, but said it was “expeditiously working” to finalize the needed approvals.
Arevia also declined to offer up a specific timeline for moving past the permitting hurdle.
“In the current circumstances impacting federal government priorities, it would be prudent not to speculate,” said Graf, in an email. “BLM has been consistent to date in meeting its timelines and we are confident the process is working as best it can right now.”
Despite the delay, Gemini, like many large-scale projects, can take advantage of long project timelines to catch up. The project is not slated for operation until 2023. Graf said Gemini is not currently at risk of missing that date, or its plans to qualify for the investment tax credit.
When built, Gemini is expected to rank as the largest solar project in the U.S., with a significant storage add-on of 380 megawatts. The project is a key component of NV Energy’s renewables plans, part of adhering to a Nevada law requiring 50 percent renewables by 2030 that the state passed last year.