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Wind forum draws a crowd

CORTLAND – Nearly 100 people, mostly residents of the Cortland, Hallam and Martell areas, packed a wind forum Tuesday night that could have been called Wind Energy 101.

The Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons and Lancaster County Farmers Union sponsored the event to give residents an opportunity to hear from a panel of experts familiar with wind energy development and related issues.

Ross Knott, president and CEO of Petersburg State Bank, spoke of how wind energy brought jobs and prosperity to Petersburg, a town of about 388 people in northeast Nebraska.

“The kids came home. They are reproducing. We have babies on Main Street,” he told a standing-room-only crowd at the community center in Cortland.

Knott estimated that the 81 turbines on the outskirts of town have about a $4 million a year economic impact on the community. New houses are being built, there’s a new 9,000-square-foot grocery store, a new automotive repair shop and a new lumberyard – all because of the money generated by wind development.

“Folks, when people get some money, they are not going to save it,” Knott said.

There was a lot of interest in the forum because a large-scale wind farm has been proposed in southern Lancaster County and northern Gage County by Volkswind USA, a Portland, Oregon-based company.

During a question and answer session, several audience members raised concerns about a wind farm being built in the area, which has a heavy concentration of acreages. They fear that wind turbines built near their homes would devalue their property.

And they questioned whether their towns would see economic growth like Petersburg’s, because of the close proximity to Lincoln and Beatrice, where most people shop.

“Wind farms are not a one size fits all. They should fit the location. They’re not for everywhere,” Knott told the crowd.

The audience also heard from Edward Walsh, an auditory neurobiologist from the Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, who spoke about wind turbine noise. He said most of the evidence that wind turbine noise is harmful to humans is anecdotal, and more scientific studies need to be done, which could take years.

“As a biologist, there is a biological basis for concern. In the case of wind turbines, it’s what you can’t hear that’s significant,” Walsh said, adding that most of the sounds produced by spinning wind turbines are in the low-frequency range.

Caroline Jezierski, Nebraska Wind Energy and Wildlife Project coordinator at the University of Nebraska School of Natural Resources, spoke about the impact of wind turbines on birds, bats and habitat and about the permitting process for wind developers who want to build projects in Nebraska.

Dave Vavra, chairman of the Saline County Wind Association, outlined how his grassroots organization began and what it has done for landowners in his area.

“Make sure you are developing wind for the right reasons and get the community involved,” Vavra told the audience.