DAVID CITY – Residents from one Butler County township voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to add regulations for wind farm developers.
Voters in Franklin Township, which covers 36 square miles and surrounds David City on the north, east and south sides, supported the restrictions on wind turbines by a 3-1 margin during the township board’s annual meeting.
Unlike decisions made at the village and city levels, the township’s registered voters, not the elected board, are asked to decide policy issues.
Township residents voted 33-13 to ban high-voltage power lines from running under roads and 33-11 to require 1,640-feet setbacks between wind turbines and the nearest township road or property not owned by someone taking part in the development. The regulation also places limits on the noise created by turbines, with lower levels required during overnight hours.
The restrictions were drawn up by the Bohemian Alps Wind Watchers, a group of area residents who organized after wind development plans surfaced in Butler County last spring. At the township level, the regulations were formally proposed by a local resident.
The rules are also proposed in five other townships with upcoming meetings: Savannah, Tuesday in Bellwood; Oak Creek, Wednesday in Brainard; Skull Creek, Tuesday in Bellwood; Linwood, Thursday in Abie; and Richardson, Wednesday in Dwight.
The Bohemian Alps Wind Watchers group took the township approach after learning that Butler County, which does not have zoning regulations, could not put any restrictions on wind farm developments.
Wind energy developers have been seeking easements for turbine sites in Butler County for more than a year.
In Franklin Township, Omaha-based Bluestem Energy Solutions is looking to install two wind turbines that would add power to the David City electric grid. Bluestem is developing the project under allowances made by Nebraska Public Power District for a percentage of electricity to come from alternative or “green” sources.
Florida-based NextEra Energy is looking to install up to 112 wind turbines across northern and eastern Butler County and western Saunders County. The company has acquired about a dozen easements on properties so far.
Bluestem Vice President Adam Herink said the company proposed its two turbines about a mile east of David City, only to learn that a 24-acre housing subdivision was being planned within a half-mile of the site. The company has adjusted, seeking sites farther from David City.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, David City Attorney Jim Egr, who also serves as the township’s attorney, told attendees he doesn’t believe the township has the authority to pass zoning regulations.
However, he also referenced a 2013 case – Butler County Dairy vs. Butler County – in which the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the county could not be forced to overrule Read Township’s refusal to allow a manure pipeline under a road.
In that case, Egr said, the Supreme Court did not make a ruling based on the township’s authority to enact zoning rules.
The court “did not address what would be zoning and not zoning for a township from a zoning standpoint,” Egr said. “On the other hand, the district court and Supreme Court agreed there was authority to regulate this item (manure pipelines).”
Supporters of the wind turbine regulations cited safety concerns and potential negative impacts to property values in their arguments.
The rules, which could be challenged in court, also require wind farm developers to have a decommissioning plan to remove the turbines and towers after the structures stop generating electricity.