It remains to be seen whether opinions about wind farms changed following a conference in North Platte Wednesday. Even if they did not, it wouldn’t be for a lack of information.
Experts from around the state spoke about the controversial subject during a Siting of Wind Energy in Nebraska Symposium at the Sandhills Convention Center.
Topics ranged from possible impacts to wildlife and the environment, to the reasoning behind the development of renewable resources and how the land acquisition process works.
However, it was the panel of landowners who ultimately stole the show. Some have turbines on their property. Some do not. All were ranchers with a desire to preserve the Sandhills.
Sid Salzman, of Ainsworth, has turbines on his property and said the experience has been a good one. He hasn’t noticed a change in wildlife patterns. He also hasn’t had trouble restoring land disturbed by the project.
“I’m convinced wind towers can be built, and the preservation of the ground can be maintained,” Salzman said. “In our experience, wind towers haven’t been a threat to the integrity of the Sandhills.”
Matt Haumont, of Broken Bow, also decided to allow turbines on his property. He urged those considering a similar move to consider all the consequences first, including possible strained relations with neighbors.
“I’ve never had someone come up and say, ‘That’s just what our skyline needed – we were missing that,’” Haumont said. “You’re going to have emotional issues to deal with.”
He also advised that people read the contracts before agreeing to anything. He learned firsthand the number of towers, locations and roads can change. It’s a big deal for anyone, but especially those who end up locked into a 40-year contract like he is.
“I would encourage people to get a personal attorney before signing anything,” Haumont said. “Developers are going to talk to their attorneys. They’re not going to make deals in pickups, and at the end of the day, what matters is what’s in black and white.”
Matt Coble, of Mullen, is a member of the Cherry County Wind Energy Association. He sees wind energy development as a way to lure younger generations back to rural areas.
“I’ve talked to young people interested in being a technician on a wind farm if it meant they could go home,” Coble said. “We’re not going to see these small towns populate because of ranching. Wind offers another option.”
Scout Cox, of Mullen, wasn’t so convinced. As a young rancher, she believes a landscape dotted with turbines would be a discouragement.
“I fully understand the concept behind renewable resources,” Cox said. “I don’t understand why that burden should fall on ranchers who are already doing a service. We are conserving the land and feeding the nation.”
Sarah Sortum’s family turned to tourism as an additional source of income for its ranching operation near Burwell. She’s worried she would lose business – not just because of a possible disruption to wildlife, but also because the turbines would block the view.
“People come to see the wide open spaces because there’s not much left in the world,” Sortum said. “It makes me wonder what my kids will tell their kids about the Sandhills someday. I hope it’s not, ‘It was beautiful before we had all these wind turbines and cell towers – you should have seen it.’”
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