A proposed wind farm near Searchlight has been blown back to square one after a federal judge in Las Vegas tossed out Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service project approvals.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du ruled the agencies failed to adequately assess potential impacts of the 9,300-acre Searchlight Wind energy project on desert tortoises, bald eagles and other federally protected species that share the desert 60 miles south of Las Vegas.
As a result of the Oct. 30 decision, Apex Clean Energy, the Virginia-based project project, will have to restart what has been a four-year permitting process.
“I’m surprised but very happy,” said Searchlight resident Judy Bundorf, a plaintiff in the lawsuit that prompted Du’s ruling. “It just wouldn’t be the same little desert town anymore if it was surrounded by wind turbines.”
It’s unclear if the ruling is a temporary setback or a death blow to the project.
“We are currently evaluating our options to determine next steps,” Apex spokesman Dahvi Wilson said in an email Thursday.
Current plans for the wind farm call for 87 turbines, each roughly the height of the Palms, on BLM land outside of Searchlight. According to the company’s website, the 200-megawatt facility would provide enough power to supply almost 50,000 homes.
Wilson said the project budget “is confidential.”
Apex announced its acquisition of the the project in early 2014 from power giant Duke Energy, which launched the permitting process in late 2008.
The Department of Interior signed off on the wind farm in 2013, based an environmental impact statement from the BLM and a biological opinion from the Fish & Wildlife Service.
But Du tossed out that approval and the documents underpinning it, citing “analytical gaps” that “frustrated the Court’s assessment” of the project’s potential risk to wildlife.
Bundorf, who has been fighting the wind farm since it was first proposed, said the array of 400-foot turbines is opposed by a majority of Searchlight residents and by American Indians worried about its proximity to Spirit Mountain, a sacred site for the Colorado River Indian Tribes and others.
If nothing else, the court ruling will delay the project, she said.
“Even if they appeal, it will probably stretch it out quite a while,” Bundorf said.
Nevada’s only utility-scale wind energy project is in White Pine County, about 300 miles north of Las Vegas.
The 150-megawatt Spring Valley Wind farm west of Great Basin National Park went online in August 2012 with 66 turbines, each roughly the same height as those planned near Searchlight.
The $225 million project has come under scrutiny in recent years after two golden eagles and a higher-than-expected number of bats were killed in turbine strikes.
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