The national monument is only an obstacle for the wind farm project

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Momentum is building for permanent federal protection of a 445,000-acre strip of land near the southern tip of Nevada, but a renewable energy company still wants a piece of the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument project.

Crescent Peak Renewables, LLC, believes the monument, which it supports, can co-exist with its Kulning wind energy project, even though the proposed project has galvanized monument activists to step up efforts to protect the area.

“In our minds, it’s not one or the other, and it’s not us against the conservation community,” said company spokesman Lucas Ingvoldstad, who stressed that the project would only require 2% of the land currently proposed for the monument.

But the prospect of creating Clark County’s first large-scale wind farm seems destined to be a steep climb.

On February 17, Rep. Dina Titus delivered on her promise from the previous month to introduce legislation to create the national monument, which would become Nevada’s fourth. The resolution was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office will determine the cost of establishing the monument.

If passed, it would prevent future renewable energy developments on the site, such as the Kulning project, because it would not allow any new easements or rights of way from the date the monument becomes official, according to the legislation. While existing easements or rights of way could continue, that would mean Eolus North America, owner of Crescent Peak Renewables, would have to act quickly.

But his application, submitted a year ago, was deemed a low priority for processing by the Bureau of Land Management, which cited several factors for its decision, including tribal concerns and impacts on the turtle’s critical habitat. of the desert, according to BLM spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon. .

“It’s going to be rejected”

For Neal Desai, senior director of field operations for the National Parks Conservation Association, there has never been a viable path to develop the area, which he says would desecrate land important to indigenous peoples and the ecosystem. of the desert. Even without the monument designation in play, he predicted that Kulning’s project would fail like others before him.

“It’s going to be thrown out because that’s what science and common sense would say,” he said. “But if there is a threat, we will obviously monitor it.”

The wind farm project was on the minds of landmark advocates during a visit last summer to the Walking Box Ranch near Searchlight, a small town about 60 miles south of Las Vegas. The wind farm would be just a few miles from the historic ranch, they said, adding that the potential for unwanted industrial projects only underscores the need for permanent protection of the surrounding land.

The territory, which extends to the California border, is sacred to native tribes and is environmentally sensitive. It contains granite mountains, dense forests of Joshua trees, natural springs, cultural relics, and desert animals and plants.

Taylor Patterson, executive director of Native Voters Alliance Nevada, said during the tour that tribes have had to show a certain level of pragmatism in the face of encroaching on land areas important to their cosmology and oral tradition.

“It’s all sacred to us, but how much can we reasonably protect, and how much can we ensure it doesn’t grow?” said Patterson.

The project reports on past criticism

Proponents of bringing federal protection to the area have already witnessed Eolus North America’s efforts to build in the area.

The Crescent Peak Wind Energy project, which could have included more than 200 wind turbines and covered more than 32,000 acres of public land along the Nevada-California border, was rejected by the BLM in 2018. It became a push for the opponents of the project to push for monument status, however.

The BLM cited “multiple issues and concerns,” including disruption to aviation radar systems, as well as potential impacts to mining claims and the visual landscape of the area. The project has long been opposed by the Fort Mojave Indian tribe, who have been credited with spearheading the monument effort.

So Eolus North America banded together and introduced the Kulning project, which reflected changes in response to criticism over Crescent Peak, according to Ingvoldstad. It has a smaller scope, with up to 68 wind turbines, and although its study area is over 9,000 acres, the project would ultimately disturb less than 700 acres, even accounting for roads, it said. he declares.

The 308 megawatt project could generate enough clean energy to meet the needs of about 100,000 homes, create 200 to 300 construction jobs and drive more than $450 million in investment in southern Nevada, according to the society.

Eolus North America, a subsidiary of Swedish developer Eolus Vind, says its project will avoid desert tortoise habitat and have “minimal” visual impacts on views.

In particular, the company claimed that its project, under most conditions, would be barely visible in less than 10% of the 360-degree views of Spirit Mountain, located at the eastern edge of the proposed monument.

Designated a Traditional Cultural Property by the National Park Service, the mountain holds deep religious and cultural significance to Indigenous peoples and is named after the proposed monument: the Mojave tribe call it Avi Kwa Ame.

The polls say

A survey of 600 Clark County voters, conducted in October by Washington, D.C.-based Normington Petts, found 72% supported the wind farm, compared to 69% who were behind the monument, when voters received a brief description of both. . The language given to respondents to describe the monument came from the website created by supporters of the monument, according to the survey memo.

The poll, which was commissioned by Eolus North America, also found that 56% of voters favored the project over the monument when told the project would create jobs and help meet clean energy goals.

But polls elsewhere have indicated that the proposed Avi Kwa Ame national monument has garnered strong support.

A Nevada Conservation League and League of Conservation Voters poll, released in late January, found that 70% of Nevada’s 601 likely voters supported the monument. Two-thirds of respondents maintained strong support for federal protections despite being presented with a prompt that monuments limit renewable energy development.

The survey, conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Hart Research Associates, also showed that more than half of those polled were unconvinced by the argument that designating the land as a national monument would prevent resource development. clean energy needed in Nevada.

Broad support for the monument

Third-generation Searchlight resident Kim Garrison Means said she supports green energy. But as a vocal opponent of wind farms proposed in the area by different companies over the years, she said developers needed to be more mindful of potential locations and not pick spots that would obstruct scenic views or interrupt corridors. wildlife.

Every failed development in recent years has only felt like a temporary victory, she said, as the next app has always been on the horizon.

“For us, this is a problem that is not going away,” she said.

Progressive think tank Data for Progress found that 62% of Nevada voters supported naming the monument, which Titus cited at a Springs Preserve press conference in January when she pledged to introduce legislation to create it.

Beyond protecting cultural and religious resources and the desert ecosystem, officials said the designation would be a boon to the outdoor tourism economy after fewer tourists visited during the pandemic.

The monument received official support from the Clark County Commission, Boulder City Council, and the Towns of Searchlight and Laughlin Advisory Councils, each of which passed a resolution supporting its creation.

“We’re so close,” Desai said.

Contact Shea Johnson at [email protected] or 702-383-0272. To follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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