Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010 | 4:34 p.m.
Despite the protests of residents, more than 80 wind turbines, each more than 400 feet tall, could soon surround Searchlight.
On Wednesday, Clark County commissioners approved an application from Duke Energy, a national renewable energy firm, to move forward with the project. The proposal encompasses about 9,300 acres bordering Searchlight on three sides. The southern Clark County town has about 500 residents.
At the meeting, dozens of residents expressed concerns about the plan’s perceived negative effects on their quality of life and potential threats to the environment.
“We’re not against renewable energy,” said Verlie Dooing, who has lived in Searchlight for more than 40 years, “but we don’t want those windmills over our heads."
An environmental impact study must be completed and approved before construction can begin, but it has not yet been finished.
The turbines would be built at least 1,300 feet from occupied homes, said Greg Borgel, a Las Vegas land use consultant who represents Duke Energy.
Residents also questioned the effect of noise generated by the windmills, which would stand as tall as 40-story buildings, and whether a quarter-mile buffer would be sufficient. Duke Energy requested a waiver to increase allowable noise levels, which commissioners approved.
Searchlight resident Matt Walker called the windmills’ effect on the area’s natural desert landscape “unsightly.” In general, opponents asked, “Why here?” Duke Energy’s response was that the Searchlight location provided the best wind patterns for energy production in Nevada. It also is situated near the electricity grid.
Proponents of the windmill farm, led by former Nevada governor and U.S. senator Richard Bryan, offered the 300 to 400 construction jobs it would create and the future of renewable energy in general as examples of the project’s benefits to Clark County and Nevada.
The state has mandated that 25 percent of its energy use come from renewable resources by 2025.
Duke Energy estimated the windmills would create 200 megawatts of energy annually, or enough to power 50,000 homes. The company expected the farm to cost between $300 million and $400 million and promised local workers would be hired for the project.
A collection of the valley’s labor unions attended the hearing in support of the project. Several private citizens also came forward to applaud the renewable energy initiative.
“Duke Energy has proven they will be a good neighbor to Searchlight,” said Searchlight resident Diane Kendell. During the last two years, a series of town hall meetings and public hearings have been held involving the company and the town.
As part of its compromise with Searchlight, the company has agreed to give $275,000 toward the town’s community center, as well as smaller contributions to local schools and organizations such as the Searchlight Museum.
Duke Energy CEO James Rogers said the company preferred to sign a contract with NV Energy for distribution and negotiations are under way. However, he also said it would explore other options if an agreement with NV Energy could not be reached.
If that happens, power generated by the windmills could be sent to another state.
All seven county commissioners approved the application. Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who represents Searchlight, said although he was sympathetic to the community’s concerns, the project was important for the county’s long-term future.
Clearing the Clark County commissioners was one major legal hurdle for the plan. Approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, which would ensure no risk to flight patterns, and approval of the environmental impact study is also necessary before construction would begin.
Duke Energy officials said the company hopes to begin construction by late 2011.