Nevada has a lot of open spaces across its deserts and long mountain ranges where wind has the freedom to race and swirl as fast as it can. It sometimes blows into Las Vegas valley with such a fury that it knocks unsuspecting and tipsy visitors into resort pools. Besides, on those days you don't want to play golf.
The idea to harness this natural resource has been slowly gaining traction here. Recently a major hurdle was overcome when Senator Reid convinced the Defense Department to drop its objections to the development of a wind farm in Wilson Creek Range in the eastern part of the state, about 180 miles from Vegas. It could become the site for a 450-megawatt project. Sierra Pacific Resources, owner of the state's two largest utilities, has plans to build a 200-megawatt facility in northeastern Nevada. There clearly seems to be a healthy dose of momentum toward harnessing this free and clean energy source.
A few challenges remain, however. Environmental groups are generally in favor of renewable energy, including wind, but in this case they are concerned about bird destruction and the impact support roads will have on the mountains where the farms would go. The federal tax credits the wind power industry presently enjoys are set to end in 2008, unless extended by Congress. And then there is the transmission of power that currently doesn't receive tax credits. It's estimated to cost $1 million per mile to bring power from these remote locations to service points while coal, the main competitor, still is much cheaper.
Sierra Pacific Resources has a mandate to produce 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2015 and its intention is to have wind play an important role in meeting that goal. At this juncture Nevada doesn't have one single wind turbine in operation, so it has to get with the program. Or else. Industry projections hold that Nevada has the capacity to generate from 1,000 to 1,500 megawatts of wind power, which would supply around 1 million homes.
It was surprising to discover that the Defense Department over the years has been the major barrier to wind power development in the state. Supposedly the tall towers would interfere with Air Force's radar operations and complicate their training maneuvers. Somehow these claims appear thin. It's a large state where there should be enough room for the planes and the turbines.