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October 31, 2014

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Winds of change blow back

Residents of Searchlight, unlike Boulder City counterparts, staunchly oppose wind farm in community

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CASSIE TOMLIN / HOME NEWS

Searchlight residents William Berg, “Shorty” Schwartz and Bonnie Schocker attend a public meeting Tuesday at a community center in the town, about 70 miles southeast of Las Vegas. The Bureau of Land Management held the meeting to discuss a proposed wind farm east of town to be operated by Duke Energy.

When Duke Energy went to Boulder City to pitch a wind farm outside Searchlight, the company was greeted with a virtual love-in.

Not so in Searchlight, where residents seemed armed with pitchforks and torches.

In a freak ice storm, one Searchlight resident contended, turbines might freeze and shards of ice could fall from the blades and stab someone through the heart.

Or: Vibrations from the slow-spinning blades will disturb local canines.

And: The turbines would be too water-intensive. (That person may have confused wind turbines with water-pumping windmills.)

In Searchlight, even four meetings with Duke Energy officials didn’t calm the not-in-my-back-yard complaints of the local residents.

But 25 miles away, the reception was decidedly warmer.

One of the 40 people who attended the meeting actually thanked Duke’s Robert Charlebois, managing director of business development, for proposing the wind farm.

Duke has proposed a 270-megawatt wind farm with 161 turbines, enough to serve more than 100,000 homes. Blades will reach 415 feet in the air. The towers themselves will be 262 feet tall.

It would be the first wind farm in Nevada, a state that environmentalists say is strongly positioned to produce alternative energy.

The turbines would be on mountain terrain east of Searchlight, about 70 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

Originally, turbines were proposed for north and east of Searchlight as well.

“I presented that to the town of Searchlight and I couldn’t get to the car fast enough,” Charlebois said.

To make peace, the company amended plans so that all the turbines would be east of town. Since then, he said, townspeople have been somewhat more willing to work with the company.

Although Duke has applied for rights of way on 24,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land around the town, the plan calls for only 120 acres to be dedicated to turbines and service roads. Another 600 acres would be temporarily disturbed during construction.

Charlebois said the company plans to use hundreds of local laborers, and employ another 15 to 20 people once the wind farm is operating. He said the company will buy as many supplies as possible from Nevada companies, pay significant property and sales tax to the state and make tens of millions of dollars in direct investment in the area.

Construction will take six months, after which Duke hopes to reopen the area to hunting and other backcountry recreational uses, Charlebois said.

And while Boulder City residents seemed satisfied with those answers — and assurances that the company had commissioned bird, bat and cultural studies — Searchlight residents were less accepting.

An environmentalist who attended the meeting said one resident said he supported the idea of wind and other renewable power sources — just not in his back yard.

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