Environmentalists seeking to block Duke Energy Renewables’ proposed 200-megawatt Searchlight Wind Energy project in Nevada are suing U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and others for approving its construction on federal land.
SNL Energy reports the lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court for Nevada. The suit names Salazar, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants.
Duke Renewables is not a party to the suit. But the company did release a written statement on the project Tuesday.
“The Searchlight Windpower Project has been under an approximate five-year National Environmental Policy Act review resulting in a comprehensive environmental impact statement,” Duke Renwables says. “Potential impacts of the project have been addressed in extensive detail, and Duke Energy Renewables will institute all appropriate mitigations as required by the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies.”
Those bringing the suit include individuals who live near the project and the Friends of Searchlight Desert and Mountains and the Basin and Range Watch environmental groups.
The suit contends Salazar approved the construction of the project on the basis of an environmental-impact statement that was one-sided and did not adequately assess the impact of the proposed project.
Michael Copley, writing for SNL, quotes from the suit and says the plaintiffs paint a dark picture of the impact of the project:
The wind farm and its transmission lines “will dominate the Searchlight desert and mountains,” and the turbines, “with spinning blades that reach as high as the top of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas,” will ruin the area for visitors, residents and businesses, the complaint stated, as well as cause “significant harm” to an array of animals through “direct, indirect and cumulative impacts.”
“Construction and operation of the project will fragment thousands of acres of desert tortoise habitat, killing and disturbing tortoises and adversely modifying designated critical habitat,” the complaint said. “Federal defendants have not addressed these impacts fully in their inadequate” reviews, and absent injunctive relief, “construction of the project may commence later in 2013, threatening immediate and irreparable harm,” it said.
The project has attracted opposition in the region. And Copley notes there are concerns that the wind project could cut property values nearby by 25% to 60%.
Duke Renewables does not have a buyer yet for the power to be generated by the project. The commercial subsidiary of Charlotte-based Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE:DUK) – unrelated to Duke’s regulated utilities – does not build projects until it has a long-term contract in hand for sale of the power.
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