In the Virginia Range northwest of Pyramid Lake, the Pah Rahs east of Sparks and the Fort Sage, Dry Valley and Dogskin Mountains in northern Washoe County, scientific instruments are measuring wind strength and directions for potential turbine sites.
“This is serious stuff, and it’s coming our way,” said Bill Whitney, a county planner who conducted a workshop Tuesday night for about 100 people interested in wind energy in the county.
In the southern part of the county, as many as 70 wind turbines are proposed on federal land by Great Basin Wind, stretching from Geiger Summit to McClellan Peak. The ridge lines lie between Washoe Valley and Virginia City.
Matt Giblin of Invenergy of Chicago estimated 20 different companies are scouting the ridges for sites for windmills.
Nevada Wind is proposing up to 44 turbines in the Pah Rah Mountains east of Warm Springs. With each turbine producing 2.5 megawatts, that’s enough power for
44,000 homes, said John Johansen, a Nevada Wind partner and former president of the American Wind Energy Association.
Nevada Wind is expected to be first because it is leasing sites on private land, avoiding long environmental studies required by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for leasing federal lands.
Whitney estimated other projects are two to three years away.
Nevada Wind will be the guinea pig.
After filing an application in August, hearings for a special-use permit will begin this fall, as county planners are updating the development code for windmills.
County ordinances require a special-use permit for utility-
size windmills. Draft rules could require erosion plans for disturbed land, restoration plans for temporary roads, avian studies, setbacks from property lines, including 1,200 feet from the nearest residential property, and noise standards.
Jerry Purdy, a retired highway engineer, warned the county not to get carried away with setting standards or proposed windmill projects will be 30 years in the making.
“Don’t set it up so half a dozen people can shoot down the whole thing,” he said.
A state law approved in 2005 allows for discretionary review by the county. But local governments must remove any approval standards that “are fundamentally incompatible with both wind and solar generation,” Whitney said.
The regional plan also encourages renewable energy.
Jane Countryman of Washoe Valley said valley residents are attempting to gain scenic corridor status for the valley.
“Having those turbines is not going to be complimentary,” she said.
Whitney said the county would work with Storey County and the BLM in the approval process as part of the Great Basin project in Washoe.
He said photo simulations of what the turbines on the ridges will look like from various spots on the valley floor must be provided under the draft rules.
“You won’t have to guess,” he said. “You will get a really good feel for what it looks like.”
He said studies on wind turbines generally show they have no perceived impact on views from more than five miles away. County code also requires unobstrusive colors.
Philip Anderson of Warm Springs was concerned about the turbines covering up the ridges. He said one house high on the ridge already is an eyesore.
Whitney said the roads built to the ridgetops might do more to scar the views.
But Johansen said the roads do not have to be super-wide in hauling equipment to the sites. And he said the developers have no financial incentive to build big wide roads.
Jack Hawkins, a local architect, said he thinks the turbines are beautiful and said they could be camouflaged.
“When you think of nuclear or fossil fuels, this is pretty clean energy,” he said. “I’m very much in favor in going forward with as much wind generation as we can.”
Turbines are on towers 300 feet tall and have blades about 300 feet long. That puts the tip of the blade about 450 feet in the air. The turbines have red lights to warn aviation.
County Planning Commissioner Neal Cobb suggested the wind turbines sites be below the ridge tops. Johansen said wind strength drops below the ridge.
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