September 16, 2014

$150 million wind farm proposed for Webster County

By ALGIS J. LAUKAITIS / Lincoln Journal Star | September 15, 2014 |

With the approval of the Nebraska Power Review Board, a Florida-based company is one step closer to building a $150 million wind farm in Webster County.

NextEra Energy Resources says construction of the Cottonwood Wind Project will start as soon as the company signs a long-term power purchase agreement with the Nebraska Public Power District.

David Levy, an Omaha attorney representing NextEra, said NPPD plans to buy all of the electricity from the project and then sell the renewal energy credits to utilities or other large commercial customers.

Blue Hill Mayor Keri Schunk said she hopes the project will mean more jobs and business for the area. Blue Hill has a population of about 916.

“Well, hopefully it means that the project itself would contribute substantially to our economy – not just Blue Hill, but in Webster County,” Schunk said.

Although the project has been in the works for about five years, the town has seen little economic benefit, yet, she said. Hopefully, that will change when the first turbines go up.

According to Levy, NextEra estimates that it will employ about 300 workers during construction and five full-time employees after the project is built.

Levy said the project will increase Webster County’s property tax revenues by more than 7 percent, or about $864,000 annually.

NextEra, headquartered in Juno Beach, Florida, would like to begin construction next spring and complete the project by the end of 2015.

The 89.5-megawatt wind farm – comprised of approximately 52 turbines – would be built on about 9,000 acres of leased land south of Blue Hill and south and west of Rosemont in Webster County. Thirty-five landowners signed leases, according to Levy.

The Power Review Board approved the Cottonwood Wind Project on Friday with conditions. Tim Texel, the board’s executive director, said NextEra needs to have a power purchase agreement in hand before proceeding with construction and address some environmental concerns.

Endangered whooping cranes have been spotted in the project area in the past and the wind farm is in the distribution range of the northern long-eared bat, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to list as endangered species.

NextEra, in consultation with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, plans to reduce the risk of bird and bat collisions by installing the electrical collection system underground, putting bird flight diverters on grounding wires of its transmission line, and minimizing the use of high-density night lighting where feasible. Bird nesting and breeding surveys also will be done along with bat acoustical monitoring.

Steven Stengel, a spokesman for NextEra, said the company selected Webster County for its project because of the area’s wind resources, close proximity to transmission lines and willingness of landowners to sign long-term leases.

NextEra, through a subsidiary, built the Steele Flats wind farm in Jefferson and Gage counties. The 74.8-megawatt project has 44 turbines that generate enough electricity to power about 19,000 homes. It began commercial operation in October 2013.

Two LES representatives were at the Power Review Board meeting but only as observers. LES is looking to add more renewable energy to its generation portfolio, said utility spokesperson Kelley Porter, but has had no contact with NextEra, regarding the Cottonwood Wind Project.

LES has gradually added wind energy to its portfolio over the years. About 23 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources. It is studying proposals to build a community solar farm.

Last year, LES signed a long-term agreement to receive 100 megawatts of electricity from the Arbuckle Mountain Wind Farm, which will be developed by EDP Renewables in Oklahoma. The project is scheduled to go into commercial operation in January 2016.

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