The superintendent of the Homestead National Monument of America criticized the location of a proposed wind farm in Gage and Jefferson counties, saying it threatened the horizons of the national park.
“In reflecting on the past 150 years, nothing changed the landscape like the homesteading movement did,” Mark Engler said in a public hearing before the Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission.
“In years to come, I believe few events have the potential to impact or change the landscape like wind energy development will.”
The Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission approved a special use permit Thursday for NextEra Energy Resources, which hopes its 44-turbine Steele Flats Wind Project can be completed before the end of the year.
The project calls for 32 turbines in Jefferson County and 12 in Gage County, all near Nebraska highways 8 and 103 near Diller.
The Homestead Monument is about 18 miles northeast of where the highways intersect.
The monument secured “horizon setbacks” in the 1960s, Engler said, and in 1988 determined it would need an additional 4,400 acres to protect its “view shed.”
Wind farm project developer Paul Dockery told Engler any turbine built in the Steele Flats project would be below the Homestead’s horizon line and agreed to provide a report to the superintendent.
Dockery addressed other concerns raised in the public hearing, saying cellphones and emergency communication would not be affected by the wind farm. And, he said, power lines carrying electricity from the generators to the Steele City substation would be no different than other electric lines in the area.
The county’s Board of Supervisors must give final approval. A similar review is under way in Jefferson County.
The 426-foot-tall Steele Flats turbines, manufactured by General Electric, are the “workhorses” of the industry, capable of generating 1.7 megawatts of electricity in a day.
During construction, NextEra estimates 150 workers will be on site. The wind farm would employ five full-time technicians after completion, potentially based out of an office in Odell or Diller.
Over the 30-year life of the turbines, approximately $11 million in nameplate capacity tax and property taxes will be generated for Gage County, Dockery said. The county could expect to receive $71,000 in annual tax revenue.
Kevin Sasse, who lives near Diller and would have two turbines on his property, was one of two people who spoke in favor of the project.
“I was excited about this project before I was even included in it,” Sasse said.
Kevin McIntyre worried about the sound made by the turbines affecting a cabin 1,900 feet away.
“They told me it wouldn’t be any louder than a refrigerator, but I don’t have a refrigerator in my bedroom,” he said.
Dockery said NextEra followed county regulations in determining the location of each turbine.
The Gage County Board will consider the project April 3.
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