Sagebrush in Eastern Nevada
Sagebrush in Eastern Nevada TNC is working to balance economic and resource needs with environmental concerns so people and nature can thrive. © Chip Carroon

Nevada Conservation Programs

Mining the Sun

Finding a path to smart renewable energy development in Nevada.

Through its Mining the Sun Initiative, The Nature Conservancy is focused on making it easier to put renewable energy facilities on already developed sites across Nevada, rather than on healthy, undeveloped lands that are important for clean water, open space and wildlife. In Nevada, closed mining lands offer the biggest opportunity for this use, but other sites like landfills also provide options.

Developing more renewable energy creates jobs, offers investment opportunities and is a key solution to climate change. However, it’s estimated that new energy construction in the United States could spread over an area larger than Texas by 2040. In Nevada, where renewables, including solar, have been rapidly expanding, that development has the potential to impact irreplaceable land, water and wildlife. It’s essential that this development is done in a smart way, guided by science and good policy that incentivizes protecting nature along with promoting economic development.

Brownfields are an Untapped Land Resource with Great Potential for Renewables Future

Brownfields are lands that were previously developed for industrial purposes like mining… but that are no longer in use. According to a Rocky Mountain Institute analysis of EPA data, there are more than a million acres of brownfield sites in Nevada. Those areas alone could provide the needed capacity to reach a 50% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for Nevada several times over. In fact, by one initial estimate, development on brownfields could fulfill more than 2,000% of the needed megawatts to meet a 50% RPS in Nevada.

While there will undoubtedly be new energy development projects on greenfields  in the future, brownfields sites present a major untapped opportunity to help the state meet its clean energy goals. Brownfield sites could likely offer all the capacity we need to meet Nevada’s renewable energy demands.

In Nevada's sagebrush country in the Great Basin.
Antelope In Nevada's sagebrush country in the Great Basin. © Simon Williams/TNC

An Elusive “Win-Win-Win” for Conservation, Energy Development and Mining Companies

Mining companies, renewable energy developers, and conservationists aren’t likely to be the first groups to come to mind for most people when they think of partnerships in Nevada. But that’s exactly the group that came together earlier this year to promote a key regulation change for the Mining the Sun Initiative.

For conservationists, this approach avoids land use conflicts, protecting healthy, intact habitat that might otherwise be considered for development. For the mining and solar industries, it opens up new options and often allows for the reuse of existing transmission lines and other infrastructure. It also supports Nevada’s economy, especially in rural communities.

By one estimate, renewable energy development on brownfields could provide the megawatts required to reach the 50% renewable mark 20 times over.

What We Can Do and How You Can Help

TNC has worked with the University of Virginia Law School to identify legal, financial, and other barriers to implementing this common sense approach. We’re working to remove those hurdles and create the incentives to make Mining the Sun a reality. TNC is partnering with Rocky Mountain Institute and the Wilderness Society, who have expertise in energy planning and public lands policy, respectively. We’re committed to working with local utilities, mining companies, power purchasers, clean energy developers and other local partners.

We have already demonstrated that we can make meaningful progress politically on this topic with a successful regulation change that passed earlier this year. That change added “renewable energy development and storage” as a valid use of old mining lands in the state administrative code.

While this is a very important first step, there’s still work to be done. We should do everything we can to take advantage of this great overlooked land resource to support Nevada’s clean energy goals. 

TNC is committed to helping make that happen and stands ready to do what’s required to move the Mining the Sun Initiative forward. We’d like to work with as many decision-makers as we can to create a platform for long-term engagement where the necessary details can be worked out.

Nevada Leading the Nation

The EPA estimates that as many as 43 million acres of brownfields exist nationally that could be considered for renewable energy development. By successfully implementing a large-scale approach to prioritizing renewable energy development on brownfields, Nevada could help lead the way toward realizing the potential around the West—and the nation—for this type of development model.

Laura Crane and a Fuller Star employee walking through the array of solar panels at the Fuller Star plant in Lancaster, California.
Solar Panel Array Laura Crane and a Fuller Star employee walking through the array of solar panels at the Fuller Star plant in Lancaster, California. © Dave Lauridsen

Interested in learning more? Contact:

John Zablocki, Southern Nevada Conservation Director for TNC, 775-530-5705

Jaina Moan, External Affairs Director for TNC, 702-208-8377

Leo Drozdoff, Policy Advisor, 775-781-1889