At least four separate wind projects in the Mojave Desert are in the early stages of environmental review, according to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) land records database, and would industrialize over 76 square miles of intact desert and ridgeline if they receive final approval. Energy companies are interested in several other swaths of the Mojave, but are only evaluating the strength of wind resources or have not taken significant steps toward environmental review.
Laurel Mountain Wind
L.H. Renewables, LLC, A Redlands-based corporate entity registered to a post office box, has submitted a plan of development for the Laurel Mountain wind project, which would involve installing as many as 130 wind turbines on nearly 40 square miles of intact desert west of Ridgecrest. The company has been testing wind resources in the area for years, and as of early November the BLM initiated environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Laurel Mountain wind project would be built in between the El Paso Mountains Wilderness area, and the Kiavah Wilderness; some of the project’s proposed right of way overlaps with the Jawbone/Butterbredt Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Much of the project’s footprint would impact habitat identified as biologically important by agencies developing the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, in part because of the presence of Mohave ground squirrel and desert tortoise.
North Peak Wind
E On Climate Renewables remains interested in developing the North Peak Wind project, overlapping with the Juniper Flats recreation area prized by residents of the Victor Valley. I previously wrote about this project in March; since then, the company in December submitted a plan of development and the fees necessary to begin the environmental review process. The company also reduced the size of the proposed project from over 23 square miles to 16 square miles.
This project would new and wider dirt roads into a higher elevation area of pinyon juniper habitat between the San Bernardino National Forest, and the lower elevation creosote scrub habitat.
Silurian Valley Wind
BLM in early December approved the plan of development for Iberdrola’s Silurian Valley wind project, which would industrialize over 10 square miles of intact desert habitat between Baker and Shoshone on the scenic route 127, suggesting the scoping period may begin soon. The company also plans to build a large solar facility south of the wind project, although the company has not submitted any additional information on the project in recent months, according to BLM records.
The Silurian Valley wind project was previously stalled because of Department of Defense concerns that the project’s tall turbines and spinning turbine blades would interfere with military testing and training. It is not clear if these impacts have been mitigated. The projects would overlap with areas designated by the BLM as having some of the highest visual resource inventory ratings in the Mojave, and much of the Silurian Valley is identified in the Solar Energy Development program as priority desert tortoise connectivity habitat.
Table Mountain Wind
The Table Mountain wind project is back, this time proposed by Acciona Energy. The right-of-way, located southwest of Las Vegas, and in the southeastern corner of the Sandy Valley, has changed hands at least twice since 2009 as companies evaluated wind resources in the area. According to BLM records, Acciona filed a plan of development for the nearly 11 square mile project in November proposing up to 50 wind turbines in the area.
Pending Construction And Operational
Other wind projects in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts are pending construction or operational. Some of the most ecologically destructive are sited in the western Mojave desert, and have killed several golden eagles, including LADWP’s Pine Tree project, and Next Era’s North Sky River Wind. These projects join dozens of square miles of wind turbines that are part of the Alta Wind Energy Center. Conservationists are also concerned the wind development spread across the western Mojave Desert and Tehachapi Mountains will impede the recovery of the California condor to its former range.
Elsewhere, the Searchlight Wind project in southern Nevada was approved by BLM, although Duke Energy has not yet started construction. The area hosts a healthy population of desert tortoises that will be threatened by the dozens of miles of new dirt roads that will be carved into the intact desert for the project. Further south, the Ocotillo Express wind project has completed construction, although Federal Energy Regulatory Committee reports indicate that it has produced very little of its expected energy, probably due to low wind resources in the area.
In Arizona, BP received approval from the BLM for the Mohave County Wind facility on over 54 square miles of mostly intact desert.
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