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Searchlight Wind Project before and after: Why it’s still good to have a certain kind of power

Take a close look at the two maps below. One shows the original plan to erect 161-electricity generating windmills surrounding Searchlight. The second shows an updated plan with only 87 of the 425-foot-tall windmills largely to the east and south of Searchlight and none to the west.

The original plan by Searchlight Wind Project, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Duke Energy, was to produce 300 megawatts of power, but the project has been trimmed to 200 megawatts. Robert Charlebois, managing director of the project for Duke, told me at a Bureau of Land Management meeting in Searchlight this past week that the plan was altered in response to objections from the town’s residents.

He did not deign to mention that one of those residents who just happens to live west of beautiful downtown Searchlight would have had a clear view of many of those windmills from the picture window in his living room, the one that looks out on his solar panels – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Harry’s fingerprints are nowhere to be found on the changed plans but he is said to be a friend of Jim Rogers, the chairman, president and CEO of Duke Energy, who contributed the max to Reid’s 2010 re-election campaign.

While CSI-type evidence may be lacking, one of the opponents of the wind project provided me with a copy of a letter Harry sent to the Searchlight Town Board back in 2001 when an Oklahoma-based company sought approval for a natural gas-fired power plant near the town.

The letter claimed the power would not serve Nevada customers but would flow to California. It concluded:

“I was born in Searchlight. My parents, grandparents, brother and other relatives are buried in the Searchlight cemetery. I graduated, as did my three brothers, from Searchlight Elementary. My Nevada home is in Searchlight. I expect to retire in Searchlight. I love to come home and breath the fresh air and see the vistas from my home. This proposed power plant would forever foul the air and ruin the beautiful views of the mountains I love, not only for me, but everyone that lives in Searchlight.

“I would hope for the residents of Searchlight and basic fairness, you would recommend against this monstrosity.”

Signed simply “Harry.”

There’s been no similar objection to the windmills from Harry so far as I’ve heard – now that they’ll all be in someone else’s picture window.

Charlebois admitted the project, which is nearing the end of the BLM environmental impact review process, has no signed contract – in Nevada or California – for any power it might eventually produce. Without such a contract it will not be built. The deadline for comments to the BLM is April 18.

All of the speakers at the BLM hearing in Searchlight – there were also hearings in Laughlin and Boulder City – opposed the project, saying it would harm tourism, wildlife and views, while creating traffic and not many jobs.

Another potential obstacle to this and any other wind project is the scheduled demise of the production tax credit for windmills at the end of the year. The credit amounts to 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour in reduced corporate income tax for 10 years. In some parts of the country the tax credit is almost equal to the wholesale price of electricity. There have been times wind farms have paid utilities to take unneeded power so the wind farm could qualify for the tax credit.

Some of the opponents to the Searchlight project have started a campaign encouraging people to contact their congressional representatives and oppose the renewal of the tax credit. There is an effort to attach the tax credit extension to a transportation bill.

Several people who have called Reid’s office reported they were treated rudely and the person answering the phone seemed disinterested in taking the caller’s name and information.

Harry puts on a renewable energy dog and pony show every year in Las Vegas.