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August 20, 2014

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Boulder City residents receptive to wind farm proposal

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Richard Brian

Bob Charlebois, managing director of development of Duke Energy, addresses the crowd Tuesday during a public input meeting at the Boulder City Library.

A public meeting on a wind energy project proposed for an area 30 miles south of Boulder City drew about 30 attendees to the Boulder City Library Thursday night. Many of those in attendance were eager to delve into specifics of the 161-turbine proposal that could power roughly 100,000 homes.

The $500 million Duke Energy proposal for a wind farm near Searchlight must first undergo an environmental impact statement -- studying everything from bird and bat migration routes to effects on the local economy -- before the Bureau of Land Management approves or rejects the plan. That decision, based on whether it serves the public interest, will likely be made by April 2011.

The Bureau is taking public comment through Feb. 17. What the public thinks could ultimately affect the project's scope. Duke has already altered the initial plan: It moved turbines further from Searchlight after the original proposal, which featured the 415-foot-high turbines roughly encircling the town, drew criticism, said Bob Charlebois, Duke's managing director of development.

"Frankly, I couldn't get to my car fast enough," he said, referring to a meeting in Searchlight. "Our goal is to design a project as acceptable to as many people as possible."

Now, four towers measuring wind speed, temperature and other indicators are situated across the 24,383-acre area.

"They will determine if there's enough wind to make it profitable here," said E.J. Koford, of URS, the contractor conducting the environmental impact study.

The studies will additionally scrutinize the cultural resources, visual resources and geology of the area as well as the project's potential benefits.

The first draft of the EIS is slated for publishing in summer 2010.

During the planning process, extensive surveys of both bird and bat populations will be completed, Koford said. They will incorporate microsonic detectors to track bats and biologists will watch birds and their patterns throughout the night. Koford said turbine placement would attempt to avoid any migratory hot spots. He added that wind turbine design has improved much in recent years as lattices, which can provide perches, have been removed and the turbine's rotation has slowed to once per second.

"The rotation has massively reduced the impact to birds," Koford said.

Boulder City resident Happy Hoekenga asked about the turbines' effects on birds and said she was satisfied with the answers. She said she hoped the wind project's success would lead to the closure of fossil fuel plants.

"I'm a strong believer in alternative energy," she said. "I love nature and want to see it here for our grandkids."

Officials also fielded questions on the project's workforce, estimated to be in the hundreds during the project's six months of construction. Fifteen to 20 permanent employees would be needed after completion, and the site would be manned 24 hours a day. Charlebois said he has already had extensive discussions with local labor unions.

"It is our intention to get as much local content into the project as possible," he said, highlighting the need for road contractors and concrete vendors. "It will result in tens of millions of dollars in direct investment in the region."

Some in attendance questioned the scope of the disturbed space, which will encompass 600 acres -- 120 of which will be altered permanently. Officials said roads will be needed to construct the turbines and connect them to the nearby Western Area Power Administration grid. The lines between turbines will be underground, Charlebois said.

In response to concerns aired about public use of the land, Charlebois said they would try to maintain relatively unfettered access to the public. He noted a Texas wind farm welcomes hikers to the site.

He also said Duke intends to enter into a long-term, fixed-price contract with a supplier, meaning customers would not be subjected to the price spikes that come with fossil fuel use.

Cindy Smith said she left with a positive impression of the project after driving from Las Vegas just to see the presentation. She said she had heard of wind farms elsewhere and was anxious to see one in Nevada.

"I think this is a great thing," she said. "Isn't this what the new president is all about?"

Smith also lauded the location.

"There's always wind down there," she said.

Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].

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