Published on
the Las Vegas Sun

Green Energy, Military at Odds Over Nevada Land

Stephanie Tavares

Scenes from the Zzyzx Desert Studies Center, Soda Springs, near Baker, CA. 18 April 2009. (photo by flickr user mikebaird)

Even if it didn’t have high-powered weaponry, the Air Force would have to be reckoned with in Nevada.

It directly and indirectly employs thousands of state civilians and controls much of the land.

But military interests have run smack into those of the nation’s most powerful politicians and the industry touted as Nevada’s potential financial savior.

Renewable energy companies want to fill the state’s desert with solar arrays and dot its peaks with wind turbines. They would create hundreds of short-term construction jobs, lease income for cities and the federal government, and emission-free energy.

This would all be well and good if the towers associated with solar thermal and wind power plants didn’t cause problems for systems central to the training and tests taking place on Nevada’s military bases.

Wind turbines can mess up weather and weapons tracking radar and interfere with tests of new radar-evading equipment and tactics. If Nellis Air Force Base gets a false read from a test because a solar tower interfered with the electromagnetic field of its radar sensors, it could lead to the military formulating a doomed military tactic.

“We’re walking a tightrope between military readiness and energy independence,” Nellis Base Commander Col. Howard Belote said. “We know the Nevada Test and Training Range is ringed with high voltage solar and wind potential areas, we’re very sensitive to that, but we have to be able to fulfill our mission.”

Nellis has a history of smacking down renewable energy projects near its test range. Though developers aren’t required to clear their plans with the military before proceeding, the military can object to a location — and squash a project — early in the Bureau of Land Management evaluation stage.

The Air Force in 2002 killed a wind plant proposed for the Nevada Test Site. And last year Nellis officials butted heads publicly with solar developer SolarReserve over the company’s proposal to build a solar thermal plant with a 600-foot-tall tower at Mud Lake just outside the Air Force training range in Nye County.

Read the rest of the story here.

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