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October 30, 2014

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Planned wind farm near Searchlight clears another hurdle

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Sam Morris

Wind turbine blades from the Vestas manufacturing facility in Colorado make their way through Las Vegas on their way to the Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC) located in the Tehachapi Pass in Kern County, California Saturday, May 19, 2012. A major renewable energy project for 87 wind turbines, capable of generating 200MW, on federal land near Searchlight received government approval Wednesday.

A proposed major wind energy project near Searchlight has moved a step closer to approval by the state Public Utilities Commission.

Commission staff said Thursday it backs the application of Searchlight Wind Energy to build 87 wind turbines, two substations, overhead transmission lines and other facilities on Bureau of Land Management property.

Jason Woodruff, a PUC electrical engineer, told a public hearing that PUC approval must be conditioned on the company submitting a list of all the clearances it must obtain from federal, state and local governments.

North Carolina-based Duke Energy, the parent of Searchlight Energy, submitted its initial application in September 2009 but had to go through an environmental assessment.

Robert Charlebois, managing director of Duke Energy, said the project is estimated to cost "north of half a billion dollars" and would produce 230 megawatts, enough to power about 70,000 homes.

An adjacent homeowner Judy Bundorf filed a protest saying the project would devalue her home and land. In her petition she complained about excessive noise, shadow flicker and flashing red warning lights.

Bundorf owns 90 acres and her house is about a mile from the 427-foot windmills.

In his testimony Thursday, Charlebois said there has not been an agreement with any electric company to buy the power but there have been talks with NV Energy and potential California customers.

If there are no signed contracts, Charlebois said, the project would not be built.

In its application the company said it reviewed 30 sites before selecting Searchlight.

The BLM said in its assessment the impacts would not be significant. There was a question of dust control during construction. Charlebois said 83 acre-feet of water would be trucked in to hold down the dust.

Bundorf's lawyer Stacy Harrop referred to a Canadian study that showed the impact of these wind-generated electric projects would have a visible impact 10 miles away.

Charlebois said other studies show there is no impact from these projects.

Commissioner David Noble, who conducted the two-hour hearing, said he would write a draft order on the case to submit to the full commission. It has 135 days to make a decision from the date of the amended application, which was April 12.

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