Concerns over soaring eagles are prompting new studies that could determine the fate of Nevada Wind’s proposed wind farm on top of the Pah Rah Range overlooking Palomino Valley.
But officials with the $200 million project are confident they can work out an agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife to protect the golden eagles and still string a line of 44 large turbines across the ridgetops.
It could be the first large wind farm built in the state, depending on the progress of several other projects at Searchlight, China Mountain, Spring Valley and on the Comstock.
Among more than 20 changes approved by the Washoe County Planning Commission last week, one calls for developers to abide by a review by federal officials of a study, now just underway, to determine how the wind farm, golden eagles and other wildlife can co-exist.
One big issue is how many golden eagles nest in the mountain range. A wildlife study prepared for a neighboring wind farm on federal land on the east side of the Pah Rah Range identified 11 nesting eagles.
But Tim Carlson, Nevada Wind chief executive, said his initial study found only two nesting eagles 5 to 10 miles away from his proposed turbines.
At the request of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a new avian study is now under way. Federal officials are requiring the study be done by a local qualified biologist.
Carlson said the large turbine blades will move very slowly and eagles will surely spot them in the sky. He said an eagle is more apt to be hit by a fast-moving truck.
“We need to come up with an agreement with Fish and Wildlife or we don’t move forward,” Carlson told the Washoe County Planning Commission last week. “We will obviously do what is right for that species.”
But in an Aug. 13 letter to Carlson, Robert Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor for Nevada, said he is concerned eagles could fly into the blade. He wrote that no loss of golden eagles is acceptable in the Pah Rahs because of their limited numbers. And in his view, a wind farm in the Pah Rahs is not compatible with eagles.
If the wildlife issue is worked out and other studies are completed soon on what Nevada Wind must do to maintain Palomino Valley roads, Carlson said construction could begin next spring or next fall at the latest.
Carlson said about 250 construction workers would be required to build new roads and then erect the wind turbines. Once operating, the wind farm would employ 20-22 employees.
“This is a big, big project with lots of moving parts,” said John Johansen, of Spanish Springs, a partner in the Nevada Wind project, who has managed several wind farms in California.
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