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Wind energy company says rules may force it to nix plans

An attorney representing an energy company that has plans for a wind farm in Lancaster and Gage counties said proposed wind regulations being considered by both counties may prevent the company from building in either.

Meanwhile, at least two Lancaster County commissioners said they are concerned proposed wind energy regulations they are to consider later this month won’t do enough to protect landowners from being negatively affected by wind turbines.

But David Levy, a Lincoln attorney representing Volkswind USA, said those regulations go beyond protecting the safety and welfare of residents and will make it difficult, if not impossible, to develop wind turbines in Lancaster and Gage counties.

“Essentially, what they’re going to do is make Lancaster County and Gage County effectively off-limits for wind energy development,” he said.

Levy declined to say whether the company will move forward with its project if Lancaster and Gage county officials approve the regulations they’re considering.

The Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Commission approved the set of proposed wind regulations Aug. 20 that will now be considered by the Lancaster County Board. The board will host a public hearing at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 20 in the City Council Chambers and could decide that night whether to approve the regulations.

Gage County officials are still drafting regulations. The Planning Commission there will consider them before forwarding a recommendation to the Gage County Board.

Volkswind has said it wants to build more than 50 wind turbines in southern Lancaster and northern Gage counties.

The two main issues being considered by both counties address setback – the distance from individual wind turbines and nearby properties and homes – and the noise generated by functioning wind turbines.

Lancaster County’s proposed regulations call for a setback of 1,000 feet from homes. For nonparticipating properties, the setback must be three times the height of a turbine measured from the blade tip at its highest point.

For smaller lots of 10 or fewer acres, the setback distance is measured from the property line. For larger lots of more than 10 acres, it is measured to the home.

As for noise level, Lancaster County is considering establishing a limit of 50 decibels during the day and 42 at night. The Planning Commission had considered noise limits of 40 decibels in the day and 37 at night, which planning staff had recommended.

Two Lancaster County commissioners said they are concerned the proposed regulations don’t go far enough to protect landowners who aren’t planning to lease their land to wind energy companies.

“I’m personally concerned about the 1,000-foot setback,” said Roma Amundson, chairwoman of the County Board. “I think that is too short a distance.”

She said she also favors the noise levels proposed by the planning staff and that she doesn’t appreciate Volkswind’s decision to try to get county officials to relax their rules in order to build wind turbines in Lancaster County.

“I don’t much appreciate a company coming in and going roughshod like that,” she said.

Commissioner Bill Avery said he’s also inclined to support the planning staff’s recommendation. Commissioners Todd Wiltgen and Deb Schorr said they haven’t decided.

In Gage County, officials are considering two sets of proposed wind energy regulations, both of which are posted on the county’s website, gagecountynebraska.us.

Those regulations call for a noise limit of 40 decibels and a setback of nearly 1,980 feet, or four times the height of a wind turbine, or whichever is greater. For acreages approved before Sept. 1, 2015, wind turbines must be 2,640 feet from homes.

Myron Dorn, chairman of the Gage County Board, said he is comfortable with the noise levels and setback standards in the proposed regulations.

“Right now, I’m comfortable with that,” he said.