With NEXTera Energy Resources showing its interest across eastern Butler and western Saunders counties, Brainard area landowners invited the public to a forum Feb. 24 at East Butler High School.
For two hours, they received a primer on wind energy from the landowner’s perspective from John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, and David Vavra, chairman of the Saline County Wind Association LLC.
Following the discussion, County Supervisor Greg Janak provided the group with a summary of his conversations with NEXTera Development Director Lisa Sullivan, who had been scheduled to visit the County Board earlier in the day but had to cancel because of illness. She did attend the County Board’s meeting on March 2.
Hansen explained that it was the NFU’s goal to create beneficial markets for farmers and rural communities across the nation.
“Wind is another natural resource based commodity,” Hansen said. “Some places it’s going to work and some places it’s not.”
Hansen said he had been active in working with wind farm developers and state government to develop the framework where Nebraska can grow its wind energy capacity.
The development has picked up as the cost of wind energy production has decreased 50 percent in the last five years, while the cost of coal has more than doubled.
Vavra said that landowners need to focus on organization and education.
“Developers can promise some real wild things,” Vavra said.
He describe the phases of development: education, negotiations of contracts, option periods of two to nine years, the installation of MET or test towers, and the developers’ sale of power purchase agreements.
“You won’t get the wind developers unless the power is sold,” Vavra said.
Vavra said that landowners should be prepared for disagreements among themselves and in fact, they should invite critics of proposed projects “to make you stay honest.”
He highlighted the tactics of some developers, who engage in “cherry picking” to sign up a few landowners in the effort to block competitors.
“Get a jump on issues that need to be dealt with during lease negotiations,” Vavra said.
Saline County landowners have visited wind farms in Kansas to see turbines up close.
Answering questions from the audience, Hansen said that the negotiations with developers is “a balancing act” of keeping standards high and getting benefits for landowners and local communities.
Ultimately, Vavra said, a landowner group needs to pool its money in order to hire legal representation that is specialized with wind energy. Landowner group leaders need to be committed to the process of poring through long contract offers.
Vavra said that the Saline County Wind Association has talked to five different developers.
Wind developers can’t force communities to work with them, he said.
“Why would developers go places where they are not welcome,” Vavra said. “”You’ve got to decide .. . about where to play your cards.”
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