Basin & Range Watch — a self-styled, grassroots desert protection group and one of the plaintiffs in a suit opposing the Searchlight Wind power generation project — has issued a statement explaining the implications of a Friday federal court ruling.
The group says the ruling by U.S. District Judge Miranda Du “determined that the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and USFWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) had not fully explained certain conclusions that appear in the Record of Decision, Final Environmental Impact Statement and the Biological Opinion, and vacated and remanded the analyses to the agencies. Vacatur of the three documents, including the rights of way authorizing the project’s construction and operation, effectively requires Apex Clean Energy and the agencies to go back to the drawing board if Apex chooses to pursue the project.”
Basin and Range points out one of the more damning examples of lax oversight by the BLM uncovered by Judge Du is that the BLM Environmental Impact Statement on the eagle population relied on the wind farm developer’s survey, which found only three golden eagle nests in the vicinity of the proposed wind turbines. Yet a 2011 survey by the BLM found 28 golden eagle nests within 10 miles of the site, but this was not included.
Additionally, Du said the BLM failed to sufficiently provide data on the project’s impact on desert tortoises and bats due to habitat encroachment, operating noise, roads and blasting during construction.
Searchlight Wind, now a division of Apex Clean Energy, has been trying for at least seven years to gain government approval to place wind turbines on 9,000 acres of federal land — at the paltry price of $118 an acre — near Searchlight. The $300 million proposal was to erect 87 industrial-scale wind turbines that would be more than 400 feet tall and generate 200 megawatts of power.
“The high desert surrounding Searchlight supports a high diversity of flora and fauna including rich avian fauna and very old Joshua tree forests. The location’s close proximity to the Colorado River allows it to have a large number of terrestrial and avian species deserving of protection” said Kevin Emmerich, Co-founder of Basin and Range Watch. “The Searchlight area is a very scenic region that has a great potential to expand its tourism economy. The area should be managed to maintain open space. There are limitless opportunities for birdwatching, hiking, backcountry 4 wheel driving, wildlife viewing, boating, rock hounding and photography. The Bureau of Land Management has a unique opportunity to manage the area for its scenic, cultural, wildlife and recreational values. Rooftop solar and other distributed generation alternatives should be considered as a more environmentally friendly clean energy alternative.”
Other plaintiffs include Friends of Searchlight Desert and Mountains and individuals Judy Bundorf, Ellen Ross and Ronald Van Fleet Sr. The plaintiffs are represented by Dave Becker, an environmental lawyer from Portland, Ore., and Jim Boyle of Holley, Driggs, Walch, Fine, Wray, Puzey & Thompson in Las Vegas.
An email to Apex Clean Energy asking for comment has not prompted a reply.
Since the project has no buyer for the power it might produce and Congress has failed to renew the wind power production tax credit, there are questions as to whether the project is financially viable.
The judge issued her ruling on Friday, a 4TH ST8 blog was posted Saturday, but I can find no other media coverage of this significant ruling at this time.
Du’s ruling may also offer a ray of hope for the state, counties and businesses suing the Interior Department over land use restrictions intended to protect the greater sage grouse. She is scheduled to hear a motion for an injunction in that case next week.