The landscape of southwest Gage County and southeast Jefferson County is changing.
On Wednesday, the Gage County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a special-use permit to NextEra Energy Resources for the construction of 12 wind turbines to be erected in several sections of Glenwood Township later this year following a public hearing that lasted over an hour and a half.
A similar permit for the bulk of the project – 32 turbines in all – was approved by the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners last week.
The Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission approved the permit during a March 14 meeting and offered its recommendation to the board Wednesday.
In July, the 44 turbines in the 75 megawatt wind farm, each 426-feet tall and capable of producing 1.7 megawatts during ideal circumstances will be under contruction, with the array scheduled to connect to the energy grid at Steele City in late 2013 or early 2014.
As many as 150 workers will be present in the area during the project’s construction.
According to project manager Paul Dockery, the turbine array was selected based on setbacks from communication towers, wetland areas, roads, pipelines, pivots, barns and residences.
Dockery said the average distance of the setbacks identified in the project is 1,099, with the closest turbine planned for a road near 549 feet, as well as 639 feet from a non-participant.
Gage County Planning and Zoning regulations require a setback of 1.1 times the height of a turbine from the nearest road and 1.5 times the total height of the turbine from the nearest non-participant property line.
NextEra also said the sounds of the turbines fall below recommended levels of 60 decibels, at 47 dB for turbines being built near residences and 33.6 dB for non-participating residences.
Dockery also satisfied concerns from the Homestead National Monument of America about a possible infringement on the park’s “view shed.”
“Our conclusion is that it is not visible – no turbines, no blades of turbines will be visible from the Homestead National Monument,” Dockery said. Hills to the south of the monument will block view of the turbines 14 miles away, the study said.
The wind energy developer also agreed to leave roads used in construction of the wind farm in equal or better condition than before the project, Dockery said, including some improvements prior to construction.
“It is our obligation to make sure we maintain the roads in good condition throughout the construction of the project and at the end of the project the roads will be in as good or better condition than what we started,” Dockery said.
The 12 towers planned for Gage County will not utilize any emergency resources, Dockery said, a total of five NextEra employees stationed permanently in the area are trained to deal with a wide variety of emergencies at each site and the company maintains high safety-standards.
NextEra’s took questions from supervisors and the following its presentation about a wide variety of topics, from energy costs to who would be liable for the decommissioning of the wind farm in the future.
Supervisor Terry Jurgens asked about the agreement between NextEra Energy Resources and the Nebraska Public Power District for the price of electricity.
Dockery said the details of the contract are confidential, but said NPPD “got a good price” similar to current electric rates. He added that the rates are locked in for 20 years and would not fluctuate like other energy costs.
Melvin Beran of Diller and Allen Klecan of Odell spoke in favor of the wind farm and the benefits they believed it would bring to the community. Calvin Prebyl of Beatrice said he believes wind energy is good for the environment as well as Nebraska and Gage County.
Kevin McIntyre of Odell, who uses a cabin in section 20 of Glenwood Township said he felt the regulations should have increased setback requirements from non-participants.
“I feel bullied that I’m going to have to put up with this,” McIntyre said. “This is where I wanted to build my retirement home and I guess I won’t build there if it’s going to be something I’m going to have to put up with.”
McIntyre admitted to being a “NIMBY” – a “Not In My Backyard” person – and said Dockery was a salesperson telling the board what it wanted to hear.
“When I envision building my house there, I want to go out on my back deck and sit in peace and quiet and listen to the cows or to the birds,” he said. “We all pray for rain at church, I’m going to pray for lack of wind.”
William Cook III cited an editorial by the Lincoln Journal Star which cautioned infringing on “prairie vistas” across the state. Cook also said the Nebraska Public Power District stated it would build its own wind farms in the future if it believed wind energy was a viable production method – not purchase power from a private company.
“By moving to approve this permit, you are endorsing this project, in my opinion,” Cook said. “And I think you really need more information on the decommissioning. I would really caution you before you put your seal of approval on the project.”
County Attorney Roger Harris said he planned to work with NextEra Energy to develop a procedure for the decommissioning process – a big concern of Supervisor John Hill – which would be approved by the board before construction.
Board Chairman Matt Bauman said the county was “naïve” to wind energy regulations as little as 2-3 years ago but added that he believed the board did not approach the project with “any sense of recklessness.”
He later urged the board to consider being “good stewards” of the county’s land and natural resources”
“This is new, there is no doubt in Nebraska and Gage County the landscape is changing,” Bauman said. “We need to do the best we can to meet those needs and protect our natural resources.”