Wind could power Carson City |

Wind could power Carson City

Jill Lufrano

A California-based developer has its eye on the wind that gusts through the Pine Nut Mountains overlooking Carson City and Douglas County and plans to start researching whether they could become home to a wind power plant.

SeaWest WindPower, a San Diego turn-key developer of wind-power plants, has applied to erect three monitoring towers, each 170-feet-tall, in the Pine Nut Mountains. Each 170-foot tower will have several wind vanes attached, called anemometers, to record precise wind measurements for at least a year.

If the wind is right and the company finds a way to sell the power, the mountains could eventually become home to wind turbines 150 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, but the process could take three to four years.

Some standing 450 feet tall with blades 200 or more feet in length, new commercial wind turbines turn slower than those first used in places like Palm Springs, Calif., where hundreds line up together across the landscape.

SeaWest’s pending application may be approved before winter sets in, said Bureau of Land Management realty specialist Ken Arnold.

“It’s prospecting, if you will,” said SeaWest’s Brison Ellinghaus. “We try to monitor wind on a few sites every year. One of three or four turn out to be OK.”

Ellinghaus said monitoring is inexpensive and the first step in finding an ideal location for a wind project. Several companies are looking at Nevada for sites, but many will wait until complications following the collapse of Enron Power Corp. and dealings with Sierra Pacific and Nevada Power become easier, Ellinghaus said.

“I think it might be a ways away before there’s a wind project in Nevada,” Ellinghaus said. “But you never know. We know that as a company, things can suddenly change and get better, and that’s what we want to be ready for.”

Monitoring can take up to 11⁄2 years at the site. The site will be studied for permitting and environmental concerns and a buyer will have to be found before the project can proceed, Ellinghaus said. If all goes well, wind turbines wouldn’t be ordered until 2007 at the earliest.

Aided by government support and an abundance of natural resources, developers, researchers and federal land officials have started looking everywhere in Nevada, including the Pine Nuts, to build wind-power plants.

“From the number of applications, Nevada is the real hot spot, so to speak,” said Lee Otteni, BLM project manager in Farmington, N.M.

BLM field offices received 60 applications to place wind monitoring equipment, like small weather stations, on federal land in the past two years. Nevada has 32 pending applications, far more than any other western state.

In response, the BLM is looking for ways to make it easier for developers to use public lands to erect wind-power plants.

Officials launched a two-year study of the Western U.S. on Friday to analyze the environmental effects wind farm development could have on public lands and to develop ways land management plans can be changed to ease development.

The resulting environmental impact statement will be applied to all western public lands managed by the BLM and provide developers and BLM regional offices guidelines to tell them where the most appropriate areas are for building wind farms.

“We will have the ability to analyze the impact to birds and communities on sort of a mega-landscape scale,” Otteni said. “It should save time and money.”

Wind power plant development can still occur before the study is complete, Otteni said.

In the meantime, BLM’s Carson City Field Office is dealing with several applications from companies and agencies to place research towers locally. One application seeks to place a monitoring tower in the Peterson Range, northwest of Reno and one for the Virginia Mountains southeast of Reno. Two sites have already received permits – one on Churchill Butte east of Stagecoach and one for two research towers in Luning, Arnold said.

Once a monitoring site is authorized, research can be done for up to three years before the area is determined suitable for development.

“They decide whether or not they want to go to the next level,” said Dennis Samuelson, an expert in wind energy with the BLM in Reno. “If that’s their decision, they have to come back to us and amend the authorization for commercial development of a wind farm. That’s when it kicks all these other things into gear.”

Wind farm developers have to submit detailed plans, pay permitting fees and thoroughly evaluate environmental and economic impacts of the project.

The BLM partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to map potential wind resources in Nevada. Further testing by several agencies and companies will determine precise locations for the farms.

So far, there has been great interest in eastern Nevada, Elko, Humboldt, White Pine and Lincoln counties.

The Carson City area may be too urban, however, to be suitable for the larger wind power farms, said Pete Konesky of the Nevada Office of Energy. The office was looking to put measuring towers south of Carson near Gardnerville, but plans fell through.

Wind researchers at the Desert Research Institute in Reno are spending $500,000 in federal grants to place monitoring towers at four sites in Northern Nevada.

The towers near northern Washoe County, Tonopah and Hawthorne will measure wind direction and speed every three seconds and summarize it every 10 minutes. The information will be available to the public through a Web site in the next few months, said Dr. Richard Reinhardt.

Reinhardt said in a recent article for the institute a serious wind farm in a fairly remote Nevada location might include hundreds of towers and turbines all generating in excess of 1,000 megawatts of electrical power. The critical factor is finding the optimal locations.

“We want sites that are on public land, reasonably near highways and major power lines, but not too close to population areas,” Reinhardt said.

The state energy office is making wind measurement anemometers available to the research institute, other agencies and private individuals who want to study wind on their lands.