Searchlight, Nevada – Numbers of renewable energy projects in southwestern desert areas have risen dramatically in the past ten years, therefore it came as a surprise on Friday afternoon, November 30, when the BLM announced the agency’s refusal to allow the Crescent Peak Wind Project (CPW) to be built on 32,351 acres of pristine southern Nevada wild lands. With North American headquarters in Reno, Eolus Vind is a Swedish wind farm developer who had earlier announced to the township of Searchlight that the proposal was a “done deal.” The memorandum of termination effectively ended the project.
According to a statement released by Rudy Evenson, Acting Chief of Communications for the BLM in Nevada, “The BLM is denying the right-of-way application made by Crescent Peak Renewables LLC [a subsidiary of Eolus Vind] for the proposed Crescent Peak Wind project near Searchlight, Nevada. The BLM had previously determined that the proposed project would not conform with the Las Vegas Resource Management Plan – a conflict that in many cases results in immediate rejection of project proposals. Nonetheless, the agency conducted a significant public scoping process and engaged a number of cooperators, including Federal, county, and state governments, to provide information on potential project impacts. This review, however, identified multiple issues and concerns that prompted the agency’s decision to deny the application.”
The controversial project called for building up to 248 massive industrial wind turbines 600 feet tall with 4.4 to 4.8 megawatt turbines, which are a size typical of offshore facilities but are rarely constructed inland. The contested project would have sprawled through 22 miles of virgin Joshua tree forest, separating Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness and the South McCullough Wilderness, bordered the newly-established Castle Mountains National Monument, and engulfed an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA) that is known to be the only nesting grounds of the gilded flicker in Nevada.
The particular area chosen for the project was described by the Eolus Senior VP of Project Development, at a public scoping meeting, by stating, “It’s not the windiest area.” It is, however, an area known for an abundance of golden eagles, a migratory flight path for bald eagles en route to Lake Mojave, and home to Gila monsters and bighorn sheep. The proposed project would also have encroached on desert tortoise habitat, straddling both the Mojave National Preserve and an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).
Conservation groups that generally support wind energy schemes who were working alongside local anti-wind turbine activists together agreed that the project represented an ill wind and that the idea behind the concept was three sheets to the wind. Protests were made through the BLM’s public scoping process, a petition signed by Searchlight residents was sent to Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and letters were sent by locals to President Donald Trump. Enough wind was stirred up to reach the highest levels of government and according to an unverified report, the order to deny the Crescent
Peak Wind Project came from high up in the Department of Interior.
During the campaign to stop the Crescent Peak Wind Project, activists cited scientific studies showing that the area where 92 miles of new roads 36 feet wide were to be bulldozed is an area high in actinolite, an unusually dangerous form of long-fiber asbestos, similar to what resulted in the deaths of more than 10% of the population of Libby, Montana. Unlike Libby, Montana, whose population was less than 3,000 before the EPA’s first declared public disaster, the area of construction for CPW may have potentially spread asbestos dust over 2 million residents in the Las Vegas Valley, and surrounding communities in California and Arizona.
Likewise, the undisturbed soils have been designated in scholarly soil science studies as one of the highest at-risk areas for coccidioides fungi, which is the source of valley fever. While the fungi remains underground, it poses no health hazards, but when exposed to the atmosphere it becomes particularly dangerous to the respiratory systems of pregnant women, African Americans, and people of Filipino descent, all of whom represent large populations in the Las Vegas Valley.
The plans for the massive wind project were officially opposed by Native Americans since the towers would have been visible from Spirit Mountain, a sacred site known to the Mojave tribe as “Avikwame.” At 600 feet in height, the project would also have been visible from portions of Arizona, as well as from the Mojave Trails National Monument. Due to the height of the towers, bright red safety lights would have been required, punctuating the otherwise dark night skies in the area, which was a problem since the Castle Mountains National Monument was established in part to protect one of the few remaining untainted night skies in Southern California.
The reason stated by the BLM for terminating the agreement to build the Crescent Peak Wind Project included conflicts of interest with the scenic value of the area and the radio interference that would have been produced by the gigantic rotating blades. Recent reports from Germany have shown that industrial wind turbines can severely effect electronics up to 20 kilometers from the source of the infrasound, and according to the Max Planck Institute, vibrations from infrasound can produce adverse health effects on neighboring residents who are beyond the aural hearing range of the towers. A combination of the interference from both the low frequency sound and height of the massive wind turbines could have prevented the plans of Clark County to expand the nearby Jean Airport into an international-size air terminal for freight and passengers traveling to and from Las Vegas.