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Turbine time

John Seelmeyer

The big wind-energy project planned by Pattern Energy Group LP east of Ely appears to have the inside track to become the first utility-sized wind project to come on line in Nevada.

The project 30 miles east of Ely in the northern part of Spring Valley is projected to generate 150 megawatts of power roughly enough for 45,000 homes when it comes on line.

The company’s schedule calls for construction to begin this autumn, with power production to begin the autumn of 2011.

That would bring the project on line more than a year ahead of the China Mountain wind-generation project proposed west of Jackpot along the Nevada-Idaho state line.

The China Mountain project, owned in equal parts by NV Energy and Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc., is completing an environmental analysis that’s expected to be ready this autumn. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2011, says a spokesman for the project.

When it comes on line, the China Mountain project is expected to produce 200 megawatts of power, with a possibility that it might be someday expanded to 450 megawatts.

Pattern Energy’s Spring Mountain project took a giant step forward a few days ago when the company signed an agreement to sell power from the wind farm to NV Energy.

The contract still needs the approval of the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, and financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Power produced by the Spring Valley turbines would flow into an existing 230-kilovolt transmission operated by NV Energy through the project location.

Construction of the wind-power project is expected to employ 150 to 200 people to build roads, pour concrete foundations, and install conical steel towers topped by turbines.

Ten permanent jobs would be created by the project.

The 418-foot towers and their turbines will stand on foundations that can support towers that are about 15 feet in diameter at their base. Between 66 and 75 towers will be constructed across the 8,500-acre site, and the company estimates three to five a week can be erected.

Pattern Energy hasn’t disclosed the estimated cost of the project, but a preliminary environmental study estimate the cost of the turbines and towers at about $260 million.

Riverstone Holdings LLC, a private equity fund in New York City focused on energy, provides much of the capital for Pattern Energy’s projects.

The Bureau of Land Management, which manages the federal land proposed for the wind farm, issued its draft environmental report on the project in December.

The BLM has placed the Spring Valley project on its regulatory fast-track, which means the agency thinks work could be approved by the end of this year. That would make it eligible for federal stimulus funding.

Pattern Energy and its predecessor company have been working with the BLM on the property since 2006. (Pattern is a spinoff from Babcock & Brown.) Among the studies the company undertook was a survey of the flight patterns of bats that live in nearby Rose Cave. The study found a majority of the bats are flying in a different direction and aren’t headed toward the wind-power site.

With the Spring Valley contract, NV Energy now has more than 1,200 megawatts of wind, geothermal, solar, hydro and waste-heat projects under contract or under development.