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Savannah, Skull Creek townships approve wind turbine regulations

NextEra representative: Setbacks will eliminate wind energy development in the area

Voters in two more Butler County townships have enacted regulations to limit the development of wind turbines.

On Tuesday night, voters in Savannah and Skull Creek townships overwhelmingly voted to approve safety regulations that were drawn up by the Bohemian Alps Wind Watchers, a group of concerned citizens that was organized when wind development plans became known last spring.

In Bellwood, around 30 Savannah voters gathered at the Bellwood Community Hall. Then in Bruno, about 50 voters of Skull Creek packed the Bruno Fire Hall and did the same, with only a handful of votes cast against the regulations. On Sept. 8, Franklin Township, which surrounds David City, approved the regulations.

The regulations also were proposed for Richardson and Oak Creek townships, set to meet Wednesday, and Linwood township, meeting in Abie on Thursday night.

In the midst of the discussion is the possibility that the regulations will be challenged in court. Franklin Township’s attorney Jim Egr put forward the opinion that townships cannot pass zoning regulations.

Two regulations have been passed: The first bans the placement of high voltage power lines under township property. The other places a 1,640 setback requirement from any property not associated with the wind farm development and also from township roads, and it also limits the noise created by the turbines during overnight hours.

Savannah voters added an amendment to its setback regulations. The decision was 19-2 to require wind farm developers to restore township roads to their previous condition before wind farms can be operated.

In Bruno, Lisa Sullivan, a representative of NextEra Energy Resources, spoke about the company’s strict safety guidelines. She sought to counter the claims made by those who said more safety regulations were needed.

NextEra, the world’s largest developer of wind energy, has proposed building a complex of 112 wind turbines across northern and eastern Butler County and western Saunders County. The company has acquired about a dozen property easements so far.

Sullivan said that wind developers already have limited areas to build turbines because the turbines cannot be built in close proximity to homes, irrigation pivots, airports, and telecommunication towers. Other limiting factors include the location of eagle nests and possible implications for other wildlife.

With the 1,640-foot setback in place “you will be eliminating wind development in this area,” Sullivan said.

NextEra’s project could also bring $900,000 in annual property tax revenue to the local government coffers, she said. The funds money would help improve schools, roads and other public needs.

David Levy, an Omaha attorney representing NextEra, clarified that the revenue impact would be for the whole project and therefore would be split between Saunders and Butler counties.

Wind Watchers member Bruce Bostelman, referring to NextEra’s Cottonwood Project in Webster County, noted that the company built turbines within two miles of a weather radar site, and that the interference could put people at risk of storms that roll through the area. The turbines should be built farther away than two miles, he said.

Levy countered Bostelman’s comments, saying that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the operators of the radar site, had approved the towers and had no interference from them.

“The people that operate (the radar site) had no problem with them,” Levy said.

Skull Creek resident Jim Rerucha urged his neighbors to consider that the wind turbines will be in place for decades.

“If these turbines come in, they are here (longterm),” he said, explaining that the tax revenue may come in, but farmers would not be able to use spray planes on their crops, and other activities such as hunting could be adversely affected.

“They’re here and there’s no changing that,” he said. “Once these wind farms come, you’re done.”

Jan BBostelman, who described her 35 years of experience as an engineer in the power industry, said the safety regulations need to be based on the worst case scenarios of turbine failures.

Dan Schmid of Dwight spoke in support of the regulations. He said European countries are much more experienced in wind development and they have larger setback distances.

Germany, for example, is creating setbacks of 1,000 meters, about double the distance set in the local regulations.

The regulations:

Here are summaries of the regulations passed.