Controversial Searchlight wind energy project gets federal OK

Federal authorities have signed off on plans to build almost 90 massive wind turbines in the desert around Searchlight, but some nearby residents and tribal members still see nothing clean or green about the project.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced approval of the 200-megawatt wind farm and two new solar arrays in California during a stop in San Francisco on Wednesday.

A subsidiary of power giant Duke Energy plans to construct the Searchlight Wind Energy Project on almost 19,000 acres of federal land surrounding the small town, about 60 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

The facility is expected to generate enough electricity to power about 70,000 homes. It is also expected to produce about 275 jobs at the peak of construction, 15 full- and part-time operational jobs, and almost $19 million in local property and sales tax revenue.

Searchlight’s most famous son, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, praised the approval of the wind farm — and the overall commitment to green energy — by the Obama administration.

“Nevada is fortunate that its sunny skies, strong winds, and geothermal resources provides us an opportunity to brighten our economic future and transform the Silver State into the vibrant core of a Western and national clean energy market,” said Reid in a statement.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., called Salazar’s announcement “tremendous news for our region.”

Judy Bundorf considers it terrible news.

The 50-year resident of Southern Nevada has been fighting the wind farm since it was proposed. She is considering a lawsuit to block construction.

Bundorf describes it like this: “Take a nice Joshua tree forest, bulldoze roads through it and build 87 Palms hotel-height structures in it.”

She said the project is opposed by a majority of Searchlight residents and a growing number of American Indians worried about its proximity to Spirit Mountain, a sacred site for the Colorado River Indian Tribes and others.

The Searchlight Town Advisory Board voted against it twice, but the Clark County Commission ignored the recommendation, she said.

Bundorf and about 50 other people rallied against the wind farm in Reid’s hometown last month.

She said she first joined the fight for selfish reasons. She owns a vacation home outside Searchlight — one powered by solar panels, a propane generator and two small wind turbines — and she didn’t want her view of the desert spoiled.

Now she has come to believe that wind farms in general are not as eco-friendly as advertised.

“They destroy so much of the landscape and so much of the view-shed for so little power,” she said.

Federal officials insist the approved project underwent extensive environmental review and public comment. The developer agreed to significant mitigation efforts to minimize impacts to wildlife, water, historical, cultural and other resources, officials said.

It will be Nevada’s second utility-scale wind energy development. The first went online last year in White Pine County, about 300 miles north of Las Vegas.

The Spring Valley Wind farm, west of Great Basin National Park, is a $225 million project by San Francisco-based Pattern Energy. It uses 66 turbines — each roughly the same height as those planned near Searchlight — to generate as much as 150 megawatts of electricity.

Southern Clark County has become a hub for alternative energy development. In addition to the Searchlight wind farm, several solar projects have been built or will be soon in Eldorado Valley southwest of Boulder City and in Ivanpah Valley south of Primm.

On Friday, Gov. Brian Sandoval and other dignitaries will gather in Eldorado Valley to celebrate completion of the latest such development: a 92-megawatt expansion of what was already one of the largest photovoltaic solar plants in the nation.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

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