A group fighting the development of a 110-turbine wind farm was organized April 14 with 40 members.
As of Monday evening, the Bohemian Alps Wind Watchers had counted more than 100 area landowners and residents who hope they can halt the Jubilee Wind Farm Project proposed by NEXTera Energy, LLC, before it gets a foothold, said John Stanner, one of the organizers.
The group has scheduled a meeting at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 23 at the Bruno Civic Center, 96 Elm St., Bruno. The meeting will be informational in nature.
The mission statement of the group: “The Bohemian Alps Wind Watchers is a group of local volunteers that is dedicated to raising awareness about industrial scale wind farms and their negative impacts to our rural landscape, local economy and wildlife.”
According to the release sent to the newspaper, the group intends to “impact the future of Butler and Saunders counties in a positive way. We intend to accomplish that by providing factual information to people in the area on the immediate and long term, negative impacts that the proposed industrial wind project will have.”
If NEXTera succeeds in building the project, the release said, the turbines will have a negative impact on the economy immediately and in the future as it limits business and community growth.
“Wildlife in the area will be negatively impacted, including nesting bald eagles, breeding prairie chickens and other endangered and threatened species that have made the wetlands, draws and valleys of this area their home,” the group asserted. “Finally, it will forever change the rural landscape and damage our local communities and rural way of life.”
The wind farm is a large “industrial complex” that will be placed in the heart of the ag-based area, the group stated.
“Not only will it alter the landscape but it will change the way we interact. From what some of our members have indicated that has already started,” the release stated.
To date, NEXTera does not have a Power Purchase Agreement – a buyer for the energy – which would be produced by the proposed project.
The Butler County Clerk’s Office has about 12 option easements filed between NEXTera and landowners, and Stanner said that the developers are now meeting with landowners in the Bruno area.
Although an exact map has not been released, the area under consideration stretches from Bellwood to Valparaiso, with another strip stretching from Valparaiso north to east of Linwood. About two-thirds of the area is in Butler County, with the rest in Saunders County.
NEXTera, headquartered on Juno Beach, Fla. Is the nation’s largest builder of wind farms in the nation, with projects sited in 19 states. The company also has solar, hydroelectric and nuclear power plants.
The project would involve constructing 100 to 112 wind turbines, enough to generate up to 200 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 40,000 homes.
While the acreage sounds extensive, NEXTera representative Lisa Sullivan said in February, the project would require an acre and a half per turbine, and easements would be necessary to run underground transmission lines to the electric grid belonging to the Nebraska Public Power District.
She explained that the project will be subject to rigorous studies to determine its impact on the environment and wildlife. The company will be contacting not only the landowners but seeking out all utility owners in the area to minimize conflicts.
Unlike its competitors, Sullivan said, NEXTera builds and holds on to its wind facilities. Elsewhere in Nebraska, the company established the 44-turbine Steele Flats project in Jefferson and Gage counties, and it currently is working to establish the Cottonwood Project, a farm of 89 or more towers in Webster County on the Kansas border.
The topics that opponents have raised since February are the setback distances, the cost of upgrading NPPD’s power lines at ratepayer’s expense, and the long-term nature of the contracts—potentially spanning 100 years. Opponents also said wind turbines would deter new residents from building in the area and cause complications for area residents and the ag producers farming around the turbines.
Sullivan assured the County Board in February that the company wants to treat the county right.
“We are in this for the long term. We are in this to build relationships. We are not trying to do anything underhanded,” she said. “It will be a permanent part of the landscape. It affects a lot of things.”
Sullivan explained that developing wind energy is not without challenges or costs, but the project carries many positives, including an estimated $150 million in revenue for local governments and $16 million in payments to landowners.
The construction period would start in 2017 and last six to nine months, with an estimated 150 to 175 workers moving in to the area for the period and contributing to the economy. After construction, the project will require five employees, who Sullivan conceded may not live in the immediate area.
Sullivan said that the company does not have different contracts for individual landowners.
“We don’t want to get into a bidding war. Everyone gets the same terms. If we don’t get enough land, either we look to see if we shift the project. If we really can’t get enough to sign up, we close shop and we move somewhere else,” she said in February.
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