(Thomas Mitchell, 4TH ST8) – After nearly a decade of paper shuffling, rancorous public hearings, street protests and legal challenges, the Searchlight Wind Energy Project backers have reportedly thrown in the towel and abandoned efforts to erect 87 wind turbines, each 400 feet tall, on 9,000 acres of federal public land east of the town of Searchlight, according to a press release from wind farm opponents at Basin and Range Watch.
“According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Las Vegas Field Office,” the release says, “the agency is now in the process of closing the application for the project, 18 months after a federal judge voided the federal approvals for the project because of the likely harm to desert tortoises and golden eagles.”
Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of Basin and Range Watch, was quoted as saying, “We applaud the Bureau of Land Management for finally putting an end to this ill-sited wind project. There are clearly better alternatives for renewable energy utilizing rooftops and other locations in the built environment that would produce the same amount of megawatts. It is time for the BLM to manage this special location to protect the view-shed, wildlife, property values and cultural resources in a way that will bring tourist dollars to the region. This is no place for industrial scale energy.”
The Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs confirmed the news, reporting that BLM spokeswoman said the developer has taken down its meteorological towers used to monitor wind strength and preparing to shut down the Searchlight project. “The BLM will inspect the land to make sure the (meteorological towers) are gone and the land where they were is reclaimed,” Cannon said in an email to the paper.
U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du basically told Searchlight Wind, now a division of Apex Clean Energy, to start over and fix its flawed environmental analysis or abandon the 200-megawatt project.
Du ruled the Interior Department’s approval of the project failed to adequately address concerns about impacts on bald eagles, golden eagles, desert tortoises and migrating bats, but she refused to grant a permanent injunction. She pointed out the initial data used by the BLM found there were only three golden eagle nests within 10 miles of the proposed turbines. Subsequent surveys actually found 19 probable or confirmed golden eagle nests within five miles of the site, the judge wrote.
Searchlight native and former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid was a backer of the project. He has since sold his home there and moved to Henderson.
This round might be over but there may be another.
Basin and Range reports that the BLM is currently considering approval of an even larger wind energy project on 35,000 acres west of Searchlight — the Crescent Peak Wind Project. “If a federal court ruled that there are too many potential harms to build an industrial-scale wind project near Searchlight, surely a far larger project like Crescent Peak with far more impacts should not be developed,” Laura Cunningham, Basin and Range Watch’s executive director, was quoted as saying.
Mr. Mitchell publishes the 4TH ST8 Blog.
Column originally published at 4TH ST8.