Why are wind-energy projects rare in Nevada? | NevadaAppeal.com

Why are wind-energy projects rare in Nevada?

Nevada's renewable energy sources are made up of a hodgepodge of 20 geothermal sites in the north, seven operating solar set-ups in the south with four more in the works, and a dozen other projects based on other technologies, including, of course, the hydropower behemoth, Hoover Dam.

Among those projects is only one wind facility, the two-year old Spring Valley operation owned by Pattern Energy Group Inc. near Ely.

The 66-turbine, 152-megawatt project has a 20-year contract with NV Energy.

So, why in Nevada's abundant renewable energy landscape, is there just one project based on wind power?

"The short answer is Nevada wind resources are unique. To be successful, you want a consistent, low wind and we tend to have 60-knot or zero wind," said Paul Thomsen, director, Nevada Governor's Office of Energy. "You would assume that's fantastic, but finding consistency has slowed development."

A map of the country's wind resources, produced by the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory, rates Nevada fair overall, compared to excellent resources available along both coasts, the Great Lakes and the mid-section of the country, including parts of Wyoming where there is a boom in wind energy development.

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But Nevada has small dots, or pockets, of well-rated wind resources throughout the state, particularly in the east in Spring Valley.

The project, which is located on 7,680 acres of Bureau of Land Management land, ran into opposition from environmental groups and this summer had to alter its operations because it was killing more bats than allowed by a court-ordered settlement between Pattern and environmentalists.

"Projects in Nevada can face greater challenges because the vast majority of the land is owned by the federal government, which increases the degree of difficulty involved in planning and permitting," said Mike Garland, Pattern CEO.

Still, Garland says the company is investigating other sites in Nevada to develop.

Wind projects also have to compete with other renewables, including geothermal and solar, which keep pushing the price of energy down, Thomsen added.

"I can't talk about actual production and their contract, but it's fair to say that Nevada is class 3 or lower, so wind is not as efficient," says Stacey Kusters, vice president of renewable energy and origination at NV Energy.

Class 3 is the lowest rating on the energy department map of the country's wind resources. The ratings range from 7, or superb, to 3, labeled fair.

But other projects are on the drawing boards.

Searchlight Wind is a 200MW development south of Las Vegas. It was recently sold by Duke Energy to Apex Clean Energy Inc., a Charlottesville, Va., company with 45 wind projects operating or in development nationwide.

Searchlight is still being permitted and is anticipated to be completed by 2017, according to the company.

Apex is also working on another 200MW project called Robinson Summit, in White Pine County, which is not expected to be operational until 2018.