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Renewable energy vs. the environment: Proposed project getting some blowback

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Bloomberg News

Commercial turbines whirl in the wind in Palm Springs, Calif.

Fri, May 4, 2018 (2 a.m.)

The Trump administration’s America First Energy Plan manifests in Southern Nevada with a proposed wind farm on public land 10 miles west of Searchlight. The planned Crescent Peak Wind Energy Project would generate 500 megawatts of electricity (powering up to 150,000 homes), and it would provide up to 1,200 construction jobs and about 20 permanent positions. The project study areas cover 32,531 acres and the final project will have a “permanent disturbance” of up to 750 acres.

According to a public statement from the Bureau of Land Management’s Southern Nevada district office, “the proposal aligns with the Trump administration’s America First Energy Plan, an all-of-the-above approach that includes renewable sources such as wind, geothermal and solar, as well as sources such as coal, oil and gas—all of which can be developed on public lands.”

How it works

About the project

• 500 megawatts (amount of energy produced by farm annually)

• Exact turbine size has not yet been determined but each will have three blades with a rotating diameter of 360 to 490 feet

• Project may have up to 248 turbines

• Up to 1,200 construction jobs created

The project is spearheaded by the Nevada-based wind energy company Crescent Peak Renewables, a subsidiary of Eolus North America, which is owned by Eolus, a Swedish wind energy company.

The Nevada project will consist of up to 248 wind turbines, with a capacity of 2 to 4.5 megawatts per turbine. The turbines would have a “three-bladed upwind configuration,” and each turbine would operate independently and have its own “step-up transformer.” With a hub height of 260 to 400 feet and a rotor diameter of 360 to 490 feet, the turbines would be approximately 440 to 599 feet tall.

According to Eolus, unlike with a solar farm, the wind farm will still allow for access to public land. Hiking, off-roading, grazing and agricultural uses should still be allowed.

The wind energy would be available for use in California and Nevada. According to a statement by Eolus, wind projects can provide “a critical balance of resources to the electric grid, will promote grid stability, reduce fossil fuel dependence and enhance national security by complementing many of the existing renewable resources that are already located throughout Nevada.”

Environmental controversy

While renewable energy seems like a no-brainer for environmentalism, this type of wind farm has garnered pushback from environmental groups. They oppose the potential disturbance of wild lands and native species such as golden eagles and desert tortoises.

Last year, a similar project, Searchlight Wind, was abandoned after years of resistance from environmentalists. Conservation group Basin and Range Watch states opposition to development in the area because it is “surrounded by important lands and holds unique biodiversity and cultural landscapes.”

The group launched a seven-month research study called a “bioblitz” at noon April 28. Basin and Range Watch will begin recording observations of plants and animals in the region. The effort will involve botanists, a mammalogist, an archaeologist, bird watchers and volunteers. Once the data is collected, they will send it to the BLM with the hopes of getting the area officially designated as a new “area of critical environmental concern,” which would come with additional environmental protections.

“We are not against renewable energy, just against poorly sited projects on public land,” said Basin and Range Watch co-founder Laura Cunningham. “We support energy projects on already disturbed lands, and in areas that are on the fringes of cities so the impacts are reduced on wildlands.”

The group would rather see a focus on “Distributed Generation,” i.e., rooftop solar in the city, microgrids, battery storage and more. “It is often the policies that hold these renewable energy resources back, as we have seen in Nevada with the net-energy metering controversy,” says Cunningham, who advocates for more rooftop solar-friendly policies.

In a fact sheet about the Crescent Peak Wind Project provided by Eolus, the company states that it is “dedicated to working with all stakeholders, adhering to all necessary permitting and biological study requirements, and implementing environmentally and culturally sound practices to address potential impacts.” The company says it is conducting ongoing studies of avian, flora, fauna and cultural and wind resources around the proposed site.

How are these projects approved?

In the north

There is one existing wind project in Northern Nevada, Spring Valley Wind Farm, which produces 152 megawatts of electricity. There are numerous solar projects throughout the state, but reliable battery technology to store power collected by solar is still being developed.

It’s a multistep process to get approval to build the wind farm on public land. From now through June 13, the project is in the “public scoping” phase, in which it seeks the public’s opinion to include in the Environmental Impact Statement.

Four public scoping meetings recently took place in Nevada, the last one on April 12 at Henderson Convention Center. During the public comment portion of that meeting, about 10 people spoke against the project and nobody spoke in favor of it. Anonymous audience members made bird calls after each commenter spoke against the project, eliciting giggles from the otherwise respectful audience. The commenters’ reasons were centered around environmental, cultural and aesthetic concerns.

The purpose of the public comment period is to take such issues into account. According to a statement, the BLM has named a variety of potential issues, including biological and cultural resources, tribal interests and recreation.

Once the comment period ends, the proponent (Crescent Peak) will develop a draft environmental impact statement and resource management plan amendment, which will be done by December. After that, the public has until February to review the new documents. From there, the proponent develops a final environmental impact statement and proposed resource management plan amendment (slated for May 2019). Then comes a 30-day protest period and 60-day governor’s review period. And finally, the decision will be made in August 2019 as to whether or not the project can move forward.

If it gets the green light, it will take about a year and a half to build the wind farm. Crescent Peak would begin construction at the end of 2019, and operations would begin in mid-2021.

How to comment

• The comment period is open through June 13. The most effective comments are specific and clearly state the issue, the reasoning or rational, and provide constructive solutions or alternatives.

• Comments can be mailed to Southern Nevada District, Field Manager, 4701 N. Torrey Pines Drive, Las Vegas, NV, 89130, faxed to 702-515-5023 or emailed to [email protected]. For more information, call the question hotline at 702-515-5136 or go here.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.

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