Castle Mountains National Monument and Crescent Peak Wind Project

Plan of Development Submitted

^Map from the December 2015 Plan of Development; we added the names of the national park units, including the new Castle Mountains Natuional Monument which is no longer BLM land.

December 20, 2016 - Basin and Range Watch obtained an older version of a Plan of Development (December 2015) from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), that was submitted by the company in the process of seeking a lease permit on public land. BLM told us they expect to receive an updated Plan of Development soon and BLM will release a Notice of Intent to start environmental review.

We see an uphill path for this project since the company is seeking to build a 17,000-acre wind project right along the boundary of two beloved National Park Units: Mojave National Preserve and the new Castle Mountains National Monument. 500-foot tall wind turbine generators would be built on the northern New York Mountains, Castle Mountain hills, and McCullough Range (into the pinyon-juniper woodlands) in part using helicopters for heavy lifting construction.

Plus, California utilities and the California Independent System Operator are not interested in buying low-quality wind from this area. They are seeking high-quality wind from the Great Plains wind resource areas in Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico, via long transmission lines such as TransWest Express. The state is having an overgeneration problem now and looking farther afield for renewable energy.

^Map showing potential locations of wind turbines next to national park units, along the California-Nevada border.

Eagle Surveys

May 23, 2016 - The applicant for the Crescent Peak Wind Project is doing eagle surveys right now, according to Bureau of Land Management (personal coomunication), which is not following protocol. Using the contractor SWCA, surveys right now are to look for birds and bats, including eagles. US Fish and Widlife Service protocol for eagle nest surveys calls for surveys to be done in Fall and Winter for this geographic area. This is when eagles are beginning to nest. By May eagles have often flegded and nests may be unoccuppied. The applicant should be undertaking eagle nest surveys starting in November-December-January of 2016.

See:

Interim Golden Eagle Inventory and Monitoring Protocol

Wind Project Moving Forward

April 23, 2016 - Crescent Peak Wind Project Update: Eolus Wind has submitted a Draft Notice of Intent (NOI) for the Crescent Peak Wind Project to be reviewed by the Bureau of Land Management. An NOI is the first stage of an official federal review of a big project like this. The BLM has placed the NOI on hold until October 1st, 2016 due to other large pending projects including a land exchange with Nellis AFB. But we could be engaged in this issue this coming fall.


The Crescent Peak Wind Project would be built on Nevada public lands and be adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve and the new Castle Mountains National Monument in California. It would surrond the historic Walking Box Rance and be visible from Searchlight, Nevada. A wind project surrounding Searchlight has been held up due to golden eagle and other wildlife threats.

Digital Imagery of Proposed Crescent Peak Wind Project

March 6, 2016 - Thanks to Shaun Gonzalez for creating these digital images of the proposed wind project from different angles. The 3D turbine model I use is 146 meter hub height, which is consistent with a 3.3MW Vestas turbine.

^Looking at the proposed wind project right of way from Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area.

^Looking west from Walking Box Ranch.

^From the Castle Peaks within the Mojave National Preserve looking roughly northeast into Nevada.

Three New National Monuments in the California Desert

^Looking eastward from the California-Nevada border inside the new Castle Mountains National Monument. A proposed wind project would be placed on the hill to the left if allowed to go forward by Bureau of Land Management.

February 18, 2016 - Castle Mountains National Monument was officially designated on February 12 by President Obama using the Antiquities Act after more than a decade of legislative work by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), as well as advocacy work by many environmental groups. Mojave Trails National Monument, Sand to Snow National Monument, and Castle Mountains will protect 1.8 million acres of desert lands. The Mojave Trails National Monument, at 1.4 million acres, links Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park, adding protection for important connectivity corridors for wildflife. All three monuments had proposed large-scale renewable energy projects over the years, so these designations permanently conserve desert ecosystems, cultural resources and history from energy threats.

The Castle Mountains were originally carved out of the Mojave National Preserve when it was established because of an operating gold mine, and now 20,900 acres will be added back to a more protected status, managed by both the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. Mojave Trails National Monument will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and Sand to Snow National Monument will be managed jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

For more on the new national monuments see:

http://www.wildlandsconservancy.org/conservation_mojave.html

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/california_national_monuments/index.html

http://californiadesert.org/the-proposal/monuments/

http://www.calwild.org/three_new_monuments_in_ca_desert

https://www.npca.org/parks/castle-mountains-national-monument

https://sierraclub.org/sierra/2016-1-january-february/green-life/story-behind-california-deserts-new-national-monuments

^Castle Peaks.

^Looking northward up the Castle Mountains National Monument lands towards the McCullough Range in Nevada.

^Joshua tree savanna.

^Buckhorn cholla and native grasses -- galleta grass and grama.

Reactivated Wind Project Threat to Castle Mountains Area

^Crescent Peak in the northern part of the New York Mountains, just outside the boundary of the Mojave National Preserve and adjacent to the proposed Castle Mountains National Monument. This scene is in the heart of a large industrial wind project application which has been reactivated.

February 5, 2016 - Clark County NV - Will there be a wind project next to the proposed Castle Mountains National Monument and Mojave National Preserve? Ironically, the new Castle Mountains National Monument in California, which may be created soon, has a reactivated wind energy application right next to it in Nevada. Eolus Wind has bought the applications for the Crescent Peak Wind Project (and Comstock Wind to the north near Virginia City, NV) and intends to file a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement with the Bureau of Land Management soon. The application spans nearly 40,000 acres and would be visible from the Castle Peaks, Wee Thump Wilderness, Walking Box Ranch, several Parts of the Mojave National Preserve, and Spirit Mountain. Eolus is saying they may want to use the newer 750 foot concrete based turbines which would be highly visible form the Mojave National Preserve.

^Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) on the wind project site.

The wind proposal would be visible from Nipton, surrounded by the Wee Thump Wilderness and would border the Mojave National Preserve, all hugging the Nevada border. The Bureau of Land Management is expecting a revised plan of development and the company will be undertaking raptor surveys.

^Map of proposed Crescent Peak Wind Project in 2012, by Mojave Desert Blog.

^Joshua trees and yuccas (Yucca schidigera and Y. baccata) grow in a dense blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima) scrubland by Crescent Peak.

^Mojave yuccas dot the landscape on the west slope of the northern New York Mountains where the wind application sits. Nipton is within view of this landscape. Looking south from the Nipton-Searchlight road.

^Crescent Peak with blackbrush, Mojave yuccas, catclaw acacias ( Acacia greggii, leafless in winter), and big galleta grass (Hilaria rigida).

The Swedish company Eolus just reactivated a dormant application from Oak Creek Wind and have not yet started the environmental review process.

In order to get the NOI in the Federal Register, they need to submit an updated Plan of Development to BLM which they have not done yet. It will take BLM about 2 months to decide if the plan will will be good enough to start National Environmental Policy Act review.

The project is about 40,000 acres, however, the new owner is saying the final project will be anywhere from 50 to 200 MW.

Standard turbines (450 feet tall) may be considered outdated technology. The utilities are far more interested in photovoltaic solar projects. So this company wants 4 megawatt turbines which would be 750 feet tall. There is a demonstration project using these in Iowa, and we have seen on at Tehachapi Pass in CA. This would be an even larger visual intrusion to surrounding landscapes than older large wind turbine generator models.

Eolus told BLM it would take five years to complete all surveys and they would not start construction until 2021.

Castle Motns

^Laura Cunningham of Basin & Range Watch is on the left in this photo by Campaign for the California Desert, helping to write letters to Congress to preserve the area in 2009. Castle Mountains is just to the south of the proposed wind project.

^Public access dirt road on BLM land on the Crescent Peak wind project site; this road would need to be widened for construction traffic. The wind project would also possibly sit on the distant foothills of the McCullough Mountains in the background.

^Very large wind turbine generator on the left under construction on Tehachapi Pass CA, which may be similar to the design sought by Eolus at the Crescent Peak area. These would be visible from a huge distance away.

The BLM said that they may want to use less turbines due to the super size of this new mega-concrete turbine. Eolus told BLM there could be as few as ten for this project. The question is where would they put a small project in that 38,000 acres? Possibly around Crescent Peak. It is full of patented mining claims and active mines, and BLM would consider that the most disturbed area. But even at 4 MW, ten would only give them 40 MW.

The Las Vegas Resource Management Plan noted that the Piute Valley (east of Crescent Peak) should be managed for its solitude and primitive recreation opportunities.

Here is the promotional link: http://nawindpower.com/eolus-acquires-two-nevada-wind-power-projects

Through its recently established North American subsidiary, Sweden-based developer Eolus has acquired two wind power projects under development in Nevada. The transaction means that Eolus will acquire 100% of the shares in the U.S. companies Crescent Peak Renewables LLC and Comstock Wind LLC for the sum of $50,000.

According to Eolus, Crescent Peak owns the rights to a project between 200 MW and 600 MW under development in Clark County, and Comstock owns the right to a project between 20 MW and 100 MW under development in Storey, Washoe and Carson City counties. The transaction includes a profit sharing mechanism for the future sale of the wind projects.

^Two red-tailed hawks wheeling in the skies above Crescent Peak during our visit.

^Red-tailed hawk in the Crescent Peak area.

^Red-naped sapsucker on a Joshua tree in the wind project proposal site, Crescent Peak area.

^Crescent Peak with a wash lined with desert almond (Prunus fasciculata) and Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa).

^Highway connecting Nipton and Searchlight cuts through the wind application which would lie on either side if following the prior application. A transmission line is probably the main reason wind developers find this site attractive.

^Looking west from the northern New York Mountains and highway to Ivanpah Valley and Clark Mountain. The glowing Ivanpah solar power towers are visible in the distance.

^Historic Walking Box Ranch, managed by the BLM, lies on the eastern edge of the proposed wind project.

^Desert tortoise exclusion fence on Walking Box Ranch, looking westward to the Crescent Peak hills where the wind project might lie. The area is managed for tortoises in the Pauite Eldorado Valley.

Wee Thump

^Blackbrush and Joshua Trees on the lower hills of the proposed project site, looking towards Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness.

Mojave National Preserve Threat

^Castle Peaks.

January 7, 2013 - The Oak Creek Energy Systems (OCES) application to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Las Vegas Field Office, for a right of way grant to conduct meteorological studies on public lands, was approved a few years ago. The application involves the installation of meteorological towers to collect atmospheric data for a period of 2 to 3 years, about 10 miles west of the town of Searchlight, Nevada. OCES will collect data on wind speed and direction, wind shear, temperature, and humidity.

The project is located in the Castle Mountain area on the Clark County, Nevada-San Bernardino County, California boundary, bordering the Piute-Eldorado Valley Area of Critical Environmental Concern and several wilderness areas. We called BLM and they said it will also go into California. It will be adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve in the Castle Peaks mine area, in the keyhole next to the preserve.

Originally, there was a sister project to this one in the Castle Mountains keyhole in the preserve on the California side by the same company. That was thrown out. Now it is all in Nevada, but it will still be visible for hundreds of miles in the Preserve.

As of September 2012, the company changed to Crescent Peak Renewables LLC, a subsidiary of Oak Creek Energy Co. It determined that there might be feasible wind resources to develop a wind farm which would cover 37,740 acres next to Nipton, California, the Wee Thump Wilderness Area in Nevada, the McCullough Mountains Wilderness Area in Nevada, and the wind project would sit directly on a large portion of the northwest border of the Mojave National Preserve in California. The wind turbines would be visible both day and night from great distances the Mojave Preserve. At this point they are submitting their project for review under the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. This indicates that they are attempting to move forward with the Federal Review Process. The BLM has told us that this could make its way in the Federal Register soon.

See the April 2012 Plan of Development >>here (2.68 pdf). The file was scanned upside down and given to us; you may use Adobe Acrobat reader tools of rotating the page clockwise twice to read it in the correct view.

^The most recent project map we have found. The project was removed from the "keyhole" within the Mojave National Preserve, but still lies next to the northeastern boundary.

^An older out-of-date map of southern Nevada showing the cumulative project impacts to public lands. Wind projects are red polygons.

The Castle Mountains area contains unique habitats called Monsoonal Mojave Grassland and Joshua Tree Savanna, found almost nowhere else in the desert. The area is rich in summer-flowering grasses usually found in the Southwest Deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. There are also Great Plains elements. All these mix with typical Mojave Desert plants, and well-developed Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) and Mojave yucca (Y. schidigera) stands.

Several species of Grama grasses (Bouteloua eriopoda, B. gracilis, B. barbata B. curtipendula) and Three-awn grasses (Aristida purpurea purpurea, A. p. longiseta) grow with Big galleta grass (Hilaria rigida), Bush muhly (Muhlenbergia porteri), Indian rice grass (Stipa hymenoides), Desert needlegrass (Stipa speciosa).

Shrubs are very diverse, and include not only Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), but also Winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa), Ephedra (Ephedra spp.), Paperbag bush (Salazaria mexicana), Cliff rose (Purshia mexicana), California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima), Wolfberry (Lycium spp.), Four-wing saltbush (Atriplex canescens), Desert almond (Prunus fasciculata), Matchweed (Gutierrezia sp.), and Desert sage (Salvia dorrii). Washes have White bursage (Ambrosia dumosa), Cheesebush (Hymenoclea salsola), and Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis).

A savanna of Joshua trees and some juniper grow in the grassy hills and valleys. Both Mojave yucca and Banana yucca (Yucca baccata) grow with cacti: Calico cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii), Buckhorn cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa), Pancake prickly-pear (Opuntia chlorotica), and Old man cactus (Opuntia erinacea).

On our field trip in October 2009 we saw Rock wrens, Gambel's quail, and Barn swallows and Violet-green swallows flying. Bighorn sheep use the area, and the park is considering re-introducing Pronghorn antelope to the grassland.

Environmental groups such as the California Wilderness Coalition and National Parks and Conservation Association are working to request Congress to add this "keyhole" area surrounded by parkland to Mojave National Preserve. Such a rich ecosystem deserves protection. It is currently managed by Bureau of Land Management with a played-out open-pit gold mine -- the Viceroy Mine -- that could be interpreted by the park for its historic value. The mine area could be reclaimed. The 30,000 acres of the Castle Mountains area must be made part of the park by an act of Congress, and letters to congressmen can help to make this happen.

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