Solar company protects 215,000 acres of Mojave Desert


Avantus, formerly 8minute Energy, partnered with wildlife services to protect desert lands by retiring grazing rights on more than 215,000 acres.

The company is partnering with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the Onyx Conservation project. Onyx will conserve and permanently dedicate the area in Kern County to wildlife forage.

As one of the largest mitigation projects in the nation, Onyx will permanently protect a swath of Mojave Desert seven times larger than San Francisco. This will protect and enhance desert wildlife and plants, including the western Joshua Tree.

The solar developer launched the Onyx project as a mitigation effort, which is a way that solar developers make amends for the land it has used for development of large-scale clean energy projects. This land use issue seeks to find a balance between clean energy development and conservation.

Avantus, which changed its name from 8Minute Energy last month, has in the past 10 years executed over two dozen energy offtake agreements, including multiple projects with the largest utilities in California and Nevada. Its portfolio includes the largest solar cluster in the United States.

One of the company’s most notable projects is the Rexford 1 Solar & Storage Center in Tulare County, California. Among the largest solar-plus-storage installations in the country, the project features 400 MW of solar and 180 MW/540 MWh of energy storage.

Avantus continues to spread its clean energy infrastructure. Its development pipeline exceeds 50 GW, effectively doubled over the last two years. With 42 GW of solar and 78 GWh of energy storage, the pipeline spans more than 90 utility-scale projects throughout California, Texas and the Southwestern United States, and represents over $70 billion in investments.

The Onyx project is the first time grazing rights have been retired to mitigate for solar projects. A contiguous area seven times larger than the city of San Francisco, Onyx will provide greater benefits for desert species to thrive than traditional mitigation strategies, which typically involve small, disconnected land parcels resembling a checkerboard. Avantus will also invest millions of additional dollars for habitat enhancements across Onyx to jumpstart restoration for desert plants and wildlife species.

“Our Department is committed to the conservation, protection and restoration of the Golden State’s habitat, and this groundbreaking state and federal public-private partnership provides a roadmap for how renewable energy can continue to combat climate change while also providing landscape-level ecosystem benefits to native plants and wildlife,” said Julie Vance, regional manager of CDFW. “By purchasing and permanently retiring the grazing rights, Avantus is assuring this rich, vibrant land is preserved and its inhabitants can flourish.”

Located between Ridgecrest and Mojave in Kern County, the habitat in the protected area includes the California condor, Mojave Desert tortoise, American badger, Mohave ground squirrel and golden eagles. It is also estimated to include more than 80,000 acres of western Joshua tree habitat, including 3,000 acres of dense woodland. All 215,000 acres will also be open for public recreational use, including hiking and camping.

Onyx is an example of a public-private partnership that aims to conserve land while delivering on President Biden’s America the Beautiful campaign, which established a national goal to conserve at least 30% of U.S. lands and freshwater by 2030.

“The single greatest threat facing desert ecosystems is climate change, and Avantus is proud to be driving climate solutions that are decarbonizing our planet at the gigaton-level. Our portfolio of utility-scale solar and energy storage centers will deliver affordable, emissions-free energy to tens of millions of Americans, which allows us to embark on innovative mitigation strategies of the same magnitude,” said Dr. Tom Buttgenbach, founder and CEO of Avantus. “In line with our ambitions to be a clean energy major, the Onyx Conservation Project will provide critical habitat preservation and environmental benefits at a scale our industry has never seen before. This is a prime example of our endless pursuit of smarter, more sustainable solutions and we thank our federal and state partners for working with us on this pioneering effort.”

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