Want to know why renewable energy remains controversial, despite widespread agreement that it is vital for our future? The answer is location, location, location. Look no further than the beautiful Mojave Desert. Here lies some of the best conservation lands and recreational opportunities in the Silver State. The lands include the eastern portion of the world’s largest Joshua Tree forest, the densest concentration of bald and golden eagles in the state, and iconic backcountry trails and unpaved roads for exploration. We know from personal experience. As former superintendents of the national parks that frame this region, with Mojave National Preserve to the west and Lake Mead National Recreation Area to the east, we celebrate these lands and we know, and have worked with, generations of Nevadans who have taken great care to steward this landscape.
Unfortunately, this beautiful region is also ground zero for the most misguided renewable energy project in the country, the Crescent Peak Wind Project proposed by the Swedish-based developer Eolus. The wind-energy company wants to construct a 32,000-acre island of industrial development on public land completely surrounded by national park sites, wilderness areas and other special conservation lands. Such development would choke off recreation opportunities and homes for wildlife.
Considering what is at stake, it is incomprehensible that this wind company believes this is a good idea. The project would erect 220 wind turbines that are between 410 and 500 feet high – taller than the Mandalay Bay. Given the rugged terrain, 93 miles of new roads that are up to 36 feet wide would be cut into the landscape to haul massive equipment. The project would literally run against the boundaries of Mojave National Preserve, Castle Mountains National Monument and wilderness areas.
Roughly 75 percent of the project site is already designated as incompatible with wind development due to visual resource protections afforded this exceptionally scenic area. Rather than demonstrate environmental values by seeking any number of better locations in Nevada where these conflicts don’t exist, the wind company wants the Bureau of Land Management to downgrade the protections. We cannot stand for that. These protections are not simply for scenic appreciation by the casual visitor – they are essential to protecting a spiritual landscape for Native American tribes, specifically the viewshed of Spirit Mountain. This mountain, designated as a Traditional Cultural Property within Lake Mead National Recreation Area, is one of the most important Native American landmarks in the American Southwest, serving as the creation site for several Colorado River tribes.
For those of us who want to see a renewable energy economy grow in Nevada to help combat the effects of climate change on our national parks and public lands, opposing the Crescent Peak project is the only responsible thing to do. Any promise of short-term construction jobs for this project doesn’t outweigh the significant, lasting damage this project would have on public and political support for a green economy that supports many projects. It would be politically wise for renewable energy advocates and elected officials to steer clear of this impending environmental disaster. We must not sacrifice such a special place when far better options exist.
The irony of the Trump administration allowing a Swedish wind energy company to harm our national parks and heritage in the name of its reckless “America First Energy Plan” is not lost on us.
Next week, the BLM is hosting public meetings on this matter. We ask for your help in protecting one of Nevada’s most special landscapes, in saying no to the Crescent Peak Wind Project.
Alan O’Neill is former superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area and founder of the Outside Las Vegas Foundation. Dennis Schramm is a desert ecologist and former superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Mojave National Preserve.