DILLER – There area few things needed for a successful wind farm.
First, you need a customer for the electricity that would be generated. You also need a grid to hook into, and land suitable for a couple dozen wind turbines.
And the most obvious ingredient, which was available in abundance across southeast Nebraska on Tuesday: Wind.
“Were you ever outside today?” NextEra Energy media relations Mary C. Wells asked. “You’ve got plenty of it around here.”
Land agents, site supervisors and construction specialists from NextEra Energy, a Juno Beach, Fla. company, met with more than 100 landowners, community members and the curious at the Diller Community Center Tuesday night to give a glimpse into the future landscape of the area.
Wells said the meeting was positive, giving developers a chance to answer questions from the people living between Diller and Highway 8 a few miles in either direction of Highway 103 who will soon see the horizon change.
By the end of 2013, NextEra hopes the area will become the Steele Flats Wind Farm, a 44-turbine location with 32 turbines in Jefferson County and 12 in Gage County. Three alternate turbine locations have also been selected.
In all, the site is a small farm compared to many of NextEra’s 100 U.S. wind farms, which typically generate energy from 75-100 turbines.
The Steele Flats turbines, manufactured by General Electric, are the “workhorses” of the industry, capable of generating 1.7 megawatts of electricity each on days like Tuesday, when the wind sweeps across the area. Each turbine will be 426-feet high.
During construction, NextEra Energy Resources estimates 150 construction workers will be on site and the wind farm will employ five full-time technicians to maintain the facility after completion.
The locations will undergo soil sampling and a process called “micro-siting,” which will help developers learn the lay of the land and how to best construct the turbine. Each turbine site will have its own access road allowing technicians to easy access turbines for maintenance.
NextEra Energy Land Agent Deanna Julsen said the entire project will be completed in a 6-9 month window, with the turbines being constructed in an assembly line-like fashion through phases beginning with access road construction.
“You’ll see the bottom stages of the first couple turbines go up, followed by the middle and top sections of the first few while the next wave of bottom stages are built and so on,” Julsen explained.
Underground power lines and circuits will carry the electricity from the 44 turbines to a new substation being built near the middle of the wind farm which will increase the amperage of the generation before connecting to the Steele City substation through four miles of overhead lines.
Two meteorological stations will constantly provide wind data to NextEra technicians, allowing the company to monitor the site’s productivity at all times.
“They are usually on the perimeter of the projects and pick up that wind before it’s influenced by the wake of all the turbines,” Julsen said.
Several meteorological towers used to gather information prior to construction will remain in place.
Land owner Neil Wehling, who lives south of Diller and in the heart of the Steele Flats project, said he held some initial reservations about the project, but he sees
“The couple hesitations I had were about our terraces and about the access roads and how that will affect them,” Wehling said. “If it will be contour with my terraces, that was my biggest concern.”
The noise put off by the turbines is also something Wehling said landowners will need to get used to. He said there are rare occasions when he cannot hear a booster station two miles away from his farm.
With the nearest turbine being built approximately one-quarter mile from his home, Wehling said the sound of the blades spinning was also a concern that NextEra worked to alleviate.
“I went on YouTube where they talked about noise and that would be an issue we’ll deal with,” Wehling said. “These wind turbines will probably make a little noise, but they said you won’t be able to hear it from inside the house.”
Wehling said while there are some drawbacks to any kind of energy production, the southeast Jefferson and southwest Gage County communities will ultimately benefit.
“I think the community should benefit from the taxes collected on the wind farm,” he said.
NextEra estimates the wind farm could generate as much as $11 million in property taxes to be shared between Gage and Jefferson counties.
The 75-megawatt wind farm began as an Infinity Wind Power project in 2011 when the Santa Barbara, California-based company began developing the site.
Infinity later chose NextEra Energy Resources as the long-term owner and operator for the project.
The Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission will examine NextEra’s permits during its March 14 meeting, while the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Commission will discuss the project on March 14 at 7 p.m. before the Board of Commissioners discusses the issue March 19.
“Assuming that all goes well, we would start construction this year and complete it by the end of the year,” Wells said.
Once construction ends and GE completes its rigorous testing of the turbines, Julsen said the wind farm will go live.
“They will all start spinning on the same day,” she said.
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