Wind farm plan stirring a whirlwind of questions

McClellan Peak, seen at the top left of the ridge, is the southernmost point of a proposed wind farm stretching north along the Virginia Range to Geiger summit.

McClellan Peak, seen at the top left of the ridge, is the southernmost point of a proposed wind farm stretching north along the Virginia Range to Geiger summit.

Rich Hamilton of Reno is planning to sow the wind; now he may reap the whirlwind.

Hamilton is proposing a wind turbine farm on Bureau of Land Management property along the ridgeline of the Virginia Range, just east of Washoe Valley and west of Virginia City. The 72 turbines would be placed where the wind is strongest, beginning at McClellan Peak and extending northward to Geiger Summit, touching Carson City, Washoe County and Storey County.

The whirlwind, if it comes, could be from officials and residents of Storey County, especially the Comstock Historic District, who aren't crazy about modern wind turbines being in view of the 1860s-era communities of Virginia City, Gold Hill and Silver City. But Hamilton said most of the visibility would be from the west from Washoe Valley, not the east.

Storey County Manager Pat Whitten said he became aware of the wind project on Wednesday and, although the county is supportive of green energy, there's a proper place for everything.

"Large windmills overlooking the Comstock Historic District might not be a good thing," he said.

Whitten said the county had not been approached by anyone and officials would withhold judgment on the overall project until they know if it would be seen from the historic area.

Silver City resident Ron Reno, a history enthusiast, said he is strongly opposed to the project.

"It will have an adverse effect on the integrity of the national landmark district and historic district in the viewshed."

Storey County Commissioner John Flanagan said he believes the turbines would be visible from Silver City, Gold Hill, Virginia City and possibly as far as Dayton.

Hamilton said he had planned to work with the community on the project, but couldn't until he was sure it was feasible.

"I'm sorry we have taken so long to engage the local community, but you have to have a project before you do that," he said. "You have to have something to engage them about."

He now owns 10 percent of Great Basin Wind LLC, and partnered with Oak Creek Energy in Tehacapi, Calif., after he couldn't find a Nevada company to help fund the project.

Hamilton said the company has to do two years of environmental studies on the impact on birds, wildlife, noise, radar, telecommunications, watershed and more. That means the earliest the project could be begun is 2010.

When it is, he said the project would produce 10 to 12 good-paying jobs as well as clean energy for up to 43,000 homes.

Hamiltion said he has always been interested in wind and green energy. As an outdoorsman, he said, he has stood on glaciers that were clearly shrinking and decided to put his money where his mouth was.

So he sold his house in Reno, cashed out his 401K and located a partner energy company to find a good spot for wind project development. He's worked on the project for the past 2 1/2 years.

"This comes back to my own efforts to walk my talk," he said. "I spent 25 years in medicine and always talked about climate change and energy. Now we are having to deal with that."

He also knows about the winds above the Comstock.

As a CareFlight paramedic he fought the winds regularly since he moved to Reno from Bishop, Calif., in 1995, and believed the BLM land along the Virginia Range was the best spot in the area, since it war rural enough to be away from most homes, and near enough to infrastructure to be profitable, eventually.

The area has less precipitation than the Sierra, as well as high winds and is close enough to an existing power source " Brunswick Substation in Carson City " to make it an ideal location, he said.

He said modern wind projects are far superior to the old wind farms that were created in the 1980s; they use bigger and slower turbines so as not to harm birds and other wildlife.

Turbines would be one to two rotor diameters apart, he said, or between 77 to 100 meters, depending on the topography. The hub height would be between 60 and 80 meters and blades would rise 35 to 50 meters above that.

Hamilton said he understands his project would have an impact and believes a middle ground can be found.

"Historic issues are valid and we will be having meetings with the community that will address that and will allow people to have input," he said.

Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or call 881-7351.


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