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Wind project opens for public comments

Kirk Caraway
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer

About 50 people got a look at the proposed New Comstock Wind Energy Project as it opened for public review Wednesday at the Bureau of Land Management offices in Carson City.

The project calls for installing up to 69 wind turbines on the western ridge of the Virginia Range, from south Reno to the northeast edge of Carson City. The towers would be between 210 and 330 feet high, with turbine blades ranging from 115 to 170 feet.

The wind turbines would produce approximately 192 megawatts, enough to power nearly 60,000 homes.

And though wind is one of the cleanest sources of energy, there are those who disapprove of the project because of its visual pollution.

“Obviously, people are concerned about the visual impact of that, from all angles,” said Mark Struble, public affairs officer for BLM. “That ridgeline is visible from Washoe Valley, Carson City, a little bit on the Virginia City side.”

Wednesday’s event was the start of the public scoping process, the first step in creating an Environmental Impact Statement, which is required for the project’s approval. The draft EIS is scheduled to be completed in October 2009. After an extensive public comment period, the final statement is scheduled to be completed by March 2010, with a final decision on the project in September 2010.

“This will be a highly visible project,” project proponent Rich Hamilton, president of Great Basin Wind, said. “This should be a flagship project that says that Nevada should be at the forefront of the energy economy. Where we are at, we can see the project from the statehouse, we can see it from Reno, we can see parts of the project from the Comstock. Do we say it’s bad, or do we say it’s good? Do we say Nevada is a leader, or do we say Nevada is not?”

But the visibility issue had several Comstock-area residents questioning the project and its effect on the historic mining district.

“This is a very special piece of real estate, and a very fragile piece of real estate,” said Ron Reno, an archaeologist who lives in Silver City. “Right now, the landmark is officially listed as threatened. It can’t absorb much else that alters the nature of this historical district.”

The question that is unanswered is just how visible these wind turbines will be from Virginia City.

“I was a little surprised when I went out on the site the other day,” Struble said.

“When you get down in Virginia City, I don’t know how much of this is going to be really visible to the people down there, because they are in such a tight little canyon.”

Reno was concerned about how the turbines and the roads needed to build and service them would change the look of the area.

“The landscape is not a tangential part of this place,” Reno said. “The mining happened all up and down the sides of the mountain, and that is the setting that Virginia City is in.”

Hamilton said he was happy with the turnout of people wanting to learn about the project and offering their opinions, and that the informal format allowed him to talk one-on-one with people.

“What we have to do is gather comments, and know what those opinions are,” Hamilton said. “That’s what we have to do to mitigate anything, is to know what people’s concerns are.”

Reno said mitigation wasn’t enough.

“They talk about mitigating without moving the project out of the viewshed, and my question is, how?” Reno said. “They have a tough sell in terms of making it fit in there. I’m afraid we could lose our national historic designation.”

Hamilton noted that the economic impact of wind projects like this are beneficial for rural Nevada.

“Instead of putting all your megawatts and people in one place and burn fossil fuels, you spread them out across a rural state like Nevada, and that’s a big difference,” Hamilton said. “You will create jobs throughout the state, not just in one pocket.”