EDITORIAL: Wind energy plan raises environmentalists’ ire

Opposition to a new “clean” energy project near Searchlight is coming from an unlikely source — environmentalists.

As the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean reports, a Swedish company wants to put up to 220 wind turbines along a 22-mile swatch of land west of Searchlight. The turbines would be at least 410 feet tall. The Bureau of Land Management is currently conducting an environmental review.

Politicians frequently tell the public that wind energy is environmentally friendly. Not this project, claim more than a dozen conservation groups. “This is not even good from a wind perspective,” said Alan O’Neill, former Lake Mead National Recreation Area superintendent and current conservation activist. He objects to the project’s 90 miles of new roads and says it will ruin the view from nearby conservation lands and threaten golden eagles and other endangered birds.

But bird deaths are a byproduct of wind energy. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that “hundreds of thousands of birds and bats die every year” from accidentally running into spinning turbine blades.

The power lines and towers that carry wind electricity to the grid kill an additional 8 million to 57 million birds a year.

It’s not just wind turbines killing birds and tearing up desert lands. Environmentalists have made similar complaints about the Ivanpah Solar Plant. That’s the project that sits just over the Nevada-California border where mirrors focus sunlight to heat tall towers. Birds that fly into those intense rays go “poof” — literally. The concentrated sunlight incinerates them.

It happens so frequently that plant workers call the exploding birds “streamers.”

These plants are a reminder of how “clean energy” is often a misleading misnomer. A study by the free-market environmental group Strata found that coal, natural gas and nuclear power require around 12.5 acres of land to produce the average megawatt. This includes land used for resource production, transportation and storage. Solar averaged 43.5 acres per megawatt. Wind was even higher, at 70.6 acres per megawatt.

This is especially important to remember when activists demand Nevada increase its “renewable portfolio standard.” The Nevadans for a Clean Energy Future PAC is circulating an initiative to increase the standard to 50 percent by 2030. Nevada’s current RPS is 25 percent by 2025. The higher figure would likely require more wind and solar projects. As you can see with the Searchlight project, those new plants would have an outsized environmental impact.

Consumers should have more freedom — not less — in determining the type of energy they consume. But every source of energy involves environmental tradeoffs — even so-called “green” power such as solar and wind.

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