Officials of a company called Nevada Wind want to build $300 million worth of turbines above Warm Springs Valley in the Pah Rah Mountains, the first large wind farm in the state.
If Washoe County officials approve, the 20 to 50 turbines on ridges near Virginia Peak could be under construction next year, generate power by 2010 and be completed by 2013, said Tim Carlson, a partner in the Las Vegas company. Slowly rotating blades as long as 125 feet would spin on towers 250 to 300 feet tall.
He said 50 turbines would produce 150 megawatts, enough electricity for 125,000 homes, that he hopes to sell to Sierra Pacific Power Co.
County planners are reviewing Nevada Wind’s recently submitted application for a special-use permit. John Berkich, assistant county manager overseeing renewable energy initiatives, said he expects hearings would be held by the planning commission and county commission in the fall.
Commissioners have made development of alternative energy sources a priority, viewing it as an economic development strategy and a means to ensure enough energy for the region.
Warm Springs Valley is dotted with homes on 40-acre lots.
Hugh Ezzell, vice chairman of the Warm Springs Citizens Advisory Board, said most people in the valley north of Spanish Springs won’t care about the project.
“We need more wind in Nevada,” he said. “This is a fairly remote spot. There’s a general feeling in the valley that people can do whatever they want on their properties: ‘I don’t bother you. You don’t bother me.’
“There’s going to be a few squawkers in the valley. They are going to be mad about anything brought into the valley,” he said.
Carlson said the company has obtained lease agreements or options from about 15 property owners, representing 95 percent of the sites needed. Elsewhere in Nevada, the company intends to develop eight other sites near Ely and Pioche that involve negotiations and studies with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Carlson said the company was drawn to Washoe County because it has made alternative energy resources a priority.
“It takes county leadership,” he said.
With another company as a partner, Sierra Pacific is developing its own 200-megawatt, wind project called China Mountain straddling the Idaho border near Jackpot. Construction is expected to start in 2010 or 2011 and also involves the Bureau of Land Management.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates wind power could provide up to 20 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030.
“We are a fraction of the solution,” Carlson said. “But we are a part of the solution.”
In Warm Springs, Ezzel said his only concern is whether new roads created in the hills will create scarring that can be seen from the valley floor. He also assumes the county will require the company to repair any valley roads damaged.
“I don’t care,” said Jeanne Herman, another Warm Springs resident, when asked about the windmills on the ridges. “If it’s providing for us, I don’t care,” she said. “Cheaper power would be great.”
Rene Fujii, who lives within a few miles of a proposed turbine, is a little apprehensive.
“Any resident would be, even if it’s a 7-11 on the corner.”
Bill Whitney, a county planner, said new roads built on top of the ridges to the turbines most likely would not be seen from the valley floor.
County staff have asked for another photo simulation to show how the turbines would be seen from parts of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. Tribal Chairman Marvin Wright could not be reached for comment.
Carlson said the company has searched for areas in the state where the giant turbines don’t interfere with military operations. He said the military has signed off on its nine proposed sites including the Virginia Peak site, four near Pioche and four near Ely.
Carlson and partner John Johansen of Spanish Springs worked together on a wind farm project at the Nevada Test Site before the Air Force pulled the plug on the project six years ago.
“We have learned our lesson. We respect what they have to do,” Carlson said, of the military’s needs in Nevada. “They are too big to fight.”
But that has made finding commercial wind sites in Nevada “like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
In 25 years, Johansen has been president of the American Wind Energy Association and managed more than 20 wind projects in California, including at Tehachapi Pass near Los Angeles and San Gorgonio Pass, the nation’s first wind farm, near Palm Springs. He was president of a company that replaced 2,200 older wind turbines at Altamont Pass in the East Bay area with 70 units. He also oversaw a transmission line project to carry 400 megawatts of wind energy into Los Angeles County.
Carlson was executive director of the Nevada Economic Development Commission under Gov. Bob Miller and oversaw a similar operation for Southern Nevada for years before that.
Todd Eagleston, Sierra Pacific renewable energy development director, said his company is interested in the Virginia Peak project. Nevada Wind would have to present a formal bid to the company in a future round of competition for alternative energy projects, held once a year.
To win a contract, Eagleston said, the price would have to be competitive.
“We are aware of the project. We would like to see good projects be successful,” he said. “We will take a harder look at it when the time comes.”
Sierra Pacific is required by the state to diversify its portfolio with alternative energy sources by 2013. By then, the percentage of renewable energy must be 20 percent, including a credit of up to 5 percent from energy conservation programs and 5 percent from solar. There is no set requirement for wind.
Carlson said he expects Virginia Peak to produce power at a cost of 7.5 to 9 cents per kilowatt hour. That compares with 9.6 to 12 cents for geothermal and 7 to 8 cents for natural gas. Coal power ranges from 4-5 cents from older plants and 7 cents from newer plants.
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