Wind power raises questions from environmentalists
County officials welcome wind power projects—but still want to be able to stop them
Just as new wind power plans are being announced around Nevada, the state’s counties are seeking power to kill such projects.
Among the projects on various corporate drawing boards:
• Edison Mission Energy and Nevada Wind want to install wind turbines on 5,220 acres on Wilson and Table mountains in Lincoln County.
• Nevada Wind/Edison Mission Energy also plans a 5,030 acre in the White Rock Mountains in Lincoln County.
• Nevada Wind/Edison Mission Energy also has a 2,950 acre project slated for Atlanta Summit in Lincoln County.
• Nevada Wind has plans for a project on Southern Cherry Creek in Elko County. No acreage figures are available.
• Boulevard Associates wants two projects—18,254 acres in Copper Flat and a whopping 67,771 acres in North Spring Valley, which is in White Pine County.
• Spring Valley Wind also has its corporate eye on North Spring Valley, with plans for a 7,680-acre project.
• Invenergy has plans for two projects of 4,400 and 4,911 acres in North Spring Valley.
• Nevada Wind wants a 4,470-acre project on the North Egan Range in White Pine County.
• Nevada Wind/Edison Mission Energy has acquired right-of-way for a 4,250-acre project in the Antelope Range and the South Schell Creek Range in White Pine County.
• Power Partners has plans for a 4,528-acre project on the Diamond Range in White Pine County.
• Enexco has plans for a 4,536-acre project in the North Egan Range in White Pine County.
• Sierra Pacific has a 30,700 acre project at China Mountain on the Nevada/Idaho border in Elko and Twin Falls counties.
• Great Basin Wind has a plan for turbines that straddle Storey County and Carson City. The acreage is unknown but is substantial because of its length.
• Nevada Wind plans one of the smaller (50 to 160 acres) and later projects, this one in the Pah Rah Range, a line of mountains that run north and south between the Spanish Springs Valley and the Truckee River’s final leg north of Wadsworth. (Tim Carlson of Nevada Wind denied the impression created by Reno news reports that the project would be built in the Warm Springs Valley. “It’s … on top [of] the range itself, not in the valley,” Carlson said.)
In many of these cases, monitoring is going on to gauge wind potential and the completion of the projects could depend on the monitoring.
It was the Wilson and Table mountains project that aroused county officials. A supposed threat to the habitat for deer and elk has hunters concerned, and hikers are upset for aesthetic reasons. Damage to the land when construction gear and material is hauled up the mountains would be repaired, sponsors of the project said, but not everyone accepted those assurances.
Resistance to the wind project from Lincoln County, of all places, came as a surprise. Lincoln has a reputation for inviting projects that are unwanted elsewhere. In 1995, Assembly Speaker Joe Dini told the county’s commissioners that “Lincoln County has attempted to bring in every dirty industry that was available in the country to your county.” The county tried in the 1980s to lure a toxic waste incinerator to the state. In the mid-1990s, it entered into talks with the U.S. Department of Energy about the possibility of a nuclear-waste dump in the county. That sparked a 1994 attempt by Nevada Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa to remove county commissioners from office.
Nevertheless, at Lincoln County’s initiative, the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) last winter adopted a resolution supporting the right of county governments to stop wind power projects on the federally managed lands if they hurt “the environment, economy and quality of life in their counties.” The resolution was adopted unanimously, meaning every county supported it. What form asserting those rights would take is uncertain. Giving county governments even limited authority over the federally managed land within their jurisdictions would require congressional action, and probably would be a years-long process, if it happens at all.
“Ideally, I think they’d like to have the authority to say yay or nay to a project, but realistically, I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not,” said NACO executive director Jeff Fontaine.
Meanwhile, concern is growing about the wind projects. In the case of the Great Basin Wind project, 72 wind turbines would run from Geiger Pass to McClellan Peak, and Storey County leaders who initially welcomed the project have grown more cautious after hearing from residents.
Conservationists vs. environmentalists
The disputes over wind power projects often do not break down like other environmental disputes. Sometimes, the environmentalists can be found on the side that is trying to stop the projects.
These disputes are among the best demonstrations of the differences between conservation and environmentalism. Conservationism developed during the Progressive era and is generally intended to mean preservation of natural resources for use by people. Environmentalism tends to refer to preservation of resources in their pristine condition, not for use but for its own sake.
For instance, conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt and Nevada’s Francis Newlands opposed allowing “snow waters” to flow in their natural course without being used along the way for irrigation or hydroelectric power. “That would be a waste of water,” said historian William Rowley of UNR, Newlands’ biographer.
Rowley said Newlands would not have understood the notion of wilderness land. Such swaths of land, if protected, were for use as national parks or forests, and for timbering, not to be simply left alone.
“That would have run contrary to his view,” Rowley said. “He was really a utilitarian. And that’s what many in his branch of conservationists believed—'the greatest good for the greatest many over the longest time’ in the use of our resources, particularly with renewable resources like wood or lumber.”
Rowley said Newlands told John Muir he could not oppose the Hetch Hetchy project, which flooded a twin of the Yosemite Valley for use as a reservoir because it was needed for human needs.
In the case of wind turbine projects, environmentalists have been nervous about them from the beginning for the intrusion on the land—more than 110 feet high and constantly in motion—and the damage to wildlife. Golden eagles, other birds and bats have been killed by them.
Moreover, large swaths of land are used for wind farms. Carlson says the acreage needed is figured by a rule of thumb per turbine—"It is approximately 1 acre per turbine.”
In the case of the project in the Pah Rah, which is nearest Reno, he says the “site would be somewhere between 60 to 150 acres for the turbine sites. The access roads are mostly [already] in, due to the site being used as a communication site … so we would use the existing roads and add maybe an additional 60 acres of new roads. We try to do as little disturbance as possible.”
For U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the seven White Pine County projects are a godsend. He has been a target of harsh criticism from White Pine officials for his opposition to two coal-fired power plants there. So he may not welcome the notion of sponsoring legislation empowering counties to shut down such projects.