BLM rejects massive Nev. wind project

Source: Scott Streater, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Bureau of Land Management has rejected a large-scale wind power project that proposed to string together hundreds of wind turbines, more than 400 feet tall, in an area of western Nevada directly adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve and the Castle Mountains National Monument.

The decision comes just eight months after BLM announced it planned to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) analyzing the Crescent Peak Wind Project proposed on 32,531 acres of public lands 10 miles west of Searchlight, Nev., on the California border, just west of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Greenwire, March 16).

The project proposed by Crescent Peak Renewables LLC — a subsidiary of Sweden-based Eolus Vind AB — would have had the capacity to generate 500 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 175,000 homes and businesses.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal first reported BLM’s decision to reject the proposed wind project.

BLM issued a written statement Friday announcing it is “denying the right-of-way application” for the project, concluding it “would not conform with the Las Vegas Resource Management Plan.”

The agency conducted “significant public scoping” for the proposed EIS, and it “engaged a number of cooperators, including Federal, county, and state governments, to provide information on potential project impacts.”

That review, however, “identified multiple issues and concerns that prompted the agency’s decision to deny the application.” They included concerns the wind turbines “could interfere with radar at two regional air facilities — one military and one civilian.”

There were also worries about “impacts to the visual landscape” of the area.

BLM had temporarily removed the 32,000 acres at issue from new mining claims while it evaluated the project. In BLM’s statement, it listed among the areas of concern that “access to the turbines would potentially affect the development of more than 300 mining claims” in the region.

It’s not clear what Eolus Vind will do next. Representatives with its La Jolla, Calif.-based subsidiary Eolus North America Inc., and Crescent Peak Renewables, could not be reached for comment.

But many of the concerns listed by BLM were raised by conservation groups and area leaders last March after the agency published in the Federal Register a notice of intent to prepare the EIS.

Critics complained the turbines would be visible from the Mojave National Preserve, and perhaps even the Lake Mead NRA, requiring BLM to amend the Las Vegas resource management plan to change the area’s “visual resource management” criteria.

There were also concerns about the project’s potential impacts to Mojave Desert tortoise and bighorn sheep habitat, as well as to golden eagles.

“We are very pleased that the BLM has issued this preliminary statement canceling the Crescent Peak Wind Project,” said Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of the Nevada-based group Basin and Range Watch.

“The site is highly inappropriate for an industrial project of this magnitude,” Emmerich added. “The impacts to wildlife, visual resources and cultural resources far outweighed any benefits this project could have produced.”

He said the group hopes BLM will amend the Las Vegas resource management plan “to protect this special region from future potential impacts by designating it as a large-scale renewable energy-free zone or better yet, an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.”

The area at issue near Searchlight has been a target of commercial-scale renewable energy developers.

Indeed, the Crescent Peak project was the second attempt in the past few years to build a major wind farm in the region.

A federal judge three years ago threw out the Obama administration’s approval of the 200 MW Searchlight Wind Energy Project, which would have been the Silver State’s largest wind power project. Proposed for more than 9,300 acres of federal land about 60 miles southeast of Las Vegas, the Searchlight Wind project would have generated enough electricity to power about 70,000 homes.

But U.S. District Judge Miranda Du for the District of Nevada issued a sharply worded order in October 2015 rejecting the final EIS conducted by BLM, as well as a biological opinion conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service (Greenwire, Nov. 4, 2015).

Du also rejected the record of decision (ROD) formally approving the project in March 2013 that was signed by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Legal experts told E&E News that Du’s order marked the first time a court had formally ruled invalid a final EIS, biological opinion and ROD for a renewable energy project.

The order, based on a federal lawsuit filed by two groups — Basin and Range Watch and Friends of Searchlight Desert and Mountains — and three residents who lived near the proposed wind project site, ultimately led Charlottesville, Va.-based Apex Clean Energy Inc. to abandon the project (E&E News PM, April 24, 2017).

Du, an appointee of President Obama, concluded in her order that “analytical gaps exist throughout the wildlife analyses underlying the ROD,” as well as the biological opinion and the final EIS.