pen rainbow

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Searchlight Wind Energy Project

Century Plant
Big Wind v. Searchlight

The picture that I've used in this post was taken in 2009 on my mom's property in Searchlight.  This huge plant is called a Century Plant, and it's a member of the agave family.  A Century Plant lives for about 25 years and blooms once in its lifetime.

They are called "century" plants not because they live for 100 years, but because of the extended period of time that it takes for the plant to flower (anywhere from 10 to 20+ years).  When the plant is ready to bloom, it sprouts a tall stalk from the middle of the clump of sharp, pointed leaves at its base.  The stalk can grow as rapidly as one inch per hour and can reach a height of 30 to 40 feet.  The root system produces baby century plants in a ring around the mother plant, and after the central plant dies, the cycle continues.  Pretty weird and pretty impressive, if you ask me!  It's a giant version of the little garden succulent known as a, "Mother Hen & Chicks."

The desert around Searchlight is a bewildering profusion of natural gifts like this.  It is a rare treat whenever I am out at my mom's place, and a desert thunderstorm blows through.  The vast and beautiful landscape of Joshua trees, chollo cactus, and mesquite chaparral seems to glow as billowing dark gray clouds rumble overhead and pile up against the Eldorado-Newberry mountain range.

The lucent blue sky in the Century Plant photo is typical.  In the mornings, the resident family of quail who live in my mom's yard scurry across the sand  and dart underneath the creosote bushes, while small flocks of mourning doves coo from the top of the garage roof.  At night, coyotes yip and bark to one another across the open range.  Despite the noise from traffic on Highway 95 which runs through the center of town, it is amazingly quiet and tranquil in Searchlight.

Radiant Yucca & Chollo after a thunderstorm
Now, insert into that picture eighty-seven, 428-foot tall, white wind turbines, each with a concrete pad-mounted transformer located at its base.  And, surround the town with wind turbines that cover 9,396 acres of public BLM land.  Add 28 miles of new roads and 18 miles of new overhead power lines.  Add two electrical substations and five permanent meteorological masts.  Locate the nearest turbines 2.5 miles from the center of town, but expect some of these whirling behemoths to stand as close as 1 mile from the edge of town.  Increase the noise level from 43 decibels to 51 decibels, a difference of 8 decibels and the perceptual equivalent of nearly twice the noise level (a sound that is perceived as twice as loud would be 10 dB louder).

Searchlight Wind Energy Project Site Layout Map
Click to enlarge
The next time that you stop by to visit the peaceful pioneer cemetery off of Cottonwood Cove Road, imagine the constant low drone of giant wind turbines behind the torrents of wind as it races over washes of juniper, blackbrush, and desert willow.

If it were up to Searchlight Wind, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Duke Energy Corporation (a Charlotte, NC, based company and one of the nation's most aggressive developers of wind power), and the Clark County Board of Commissioners who voted to approve the project in August 2010, this would be the new face of Searchlight.  Here is a good description of the project prior to and following public meetings in 2009:

Scoping Summary Report, URS Corporation, April 2009:

The good news is that the project has been delayed, but who knows for how long.

Transmission concerns
According to Greg Helseth, manager for the Bureau of Land Management Southern Nevada Renewable Energy Coordination Office, the project has been delayed until Duke Energy conducts more studies on the state's transmission system and the ability of the grid to deliver the energy from this project to its end user customers.  (Nevada Wilderness Project, October 21, 2010:  )

Biological Reports
Last August, Mr. Helseth reported to the Basin and Range Watch desert watchdog group that the project was delayed due to the lack of biological impact reports from the applicant, Duke Energy.  (Searchlight Wind Energy Project Update, "Wind Project Delayed," August 2010:  )

Native Voices
Let's all send Harry an email and let him know that the Searchlight Wind Energy Project will have negative impacts on both the residents and the critically endangered wilderness areas that will be affected by the construction and maintenance of this large facility.  And, be specific about your concerns.

Feel free to tweet your concerns Nevada-style as 140-character silver bullets!

An Alternative
Erect a small wind generator on your property like Harry has, and generate your own power!  Go off the grid altogether.  Searchlight residents have always been self-reliant and resourceful.  The town has a long history of getting by with whatever resources there are, and for those who already know how to live in the desert, using solar, wind and thermal power is nothing new.  The town could become a model for utilizing clean energy resources to power businesses and individual homes, using the ingenuity and practical skills of its citizens.

There are alternatives to this project.  Don't get blown away by Big Wind.