NELIGH – Some see wind farms as part of the nation’s future.
Along with offering clean energy, they help rural areas to diversify their economies and bring in more high-paying jobs and tax revenue.
Not everyone agrees.
Some believe the wind farms are noisy, especially to the neighbors who don’t own the leases with the wind companies but live as close to the towers.
Out of 21 people who testified Tuesday during a public hearing before the Antelope County Planning Commission to consider a fourth wind farm in the county, one person said he was “neutral.”
Keith Heithoff of rural Elgin said his family has been farming east of Elgin for the past 100 years.
“We have a chance to bring in a dozen technicians that bring in pretty good wages. Some of them could be our kids and grandkids. It could help us keep a couple more families on the farm, help keep our schools full and our hospitals full,” Heithoff said.
Heithoff’s family has three towers, he said, which have produced positive experiences, but he knows some neighbors who disagree.
“If you’re getting a check, you can put up with a lot. If you’re not, every little thing is a major obstacle. But you have to look at the community and the whole good. If we never improved ourselves, we’d still be hunting with a sphere and living in a cave,” he said.
Emily Kobylarczyk, a development associate with Invenergy, said her company has wind turbines proposed for up to 168 locations in Blaine, Custer, Neligh, Elm and Willow townships.
She discussed the process that was used to site them, including at least 1,500-foot setbacks from any residence. It also included allowances for other matters, such as center pivot paths.
“You can’t throw a rock out here without hitting a center pivot,” she said.
The project, known as Upstream Wind Energy, would consist of up to 350 megawatts, with power delivered to the Upstream Collector Substation.
After more than two hours of testimony from 21 people, including some who testified more than once, the commission discussed the issue for an hour.
The commissioners finally voted to continue the hearing until Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 1 p.m.
The reasons for continuance included that proper notification may not have occurred, including four property owners whose notifications were returned.
Those property owners did not answer among the approximately 120 people at the meeting when chairman Mark Smith asked if the four names were there or anyone was representing them.
The other reason given for continuing the hearing was to allow more time to consider all the testimony given.
One of the main issues commissioners appeared to struggle over was whether the new towers would be in compliance with 50-decibel noise specifications.
During testimony, two people said they believe the company’s existing wind towers exceeded those limits at their homes. One woman said she measured it at about 60 decibels.
Smith said he doesn’t know any of the particulars about the noise allegation, such as what type of device was used to measure it. Nevertheless, he said, it should be checked out before the commission considers issuing another permit.
Among the benefits outlined during the public hearing:
— About 400 full-time equivalent jobs would be created during construction, resulting in about $45 million in new local output.
— About 12 new full-time jobs would be created. The company would work with Northeast Community College to hire trained workers.
— More than $3 million in taxes, leases and other payments would occur each year, including about $1.3 million in property tax revenues.
Some of those who testified said they didn’t think it would be worth it for the county.
Their reasons included that the wind towers could throw off large chunks of ice that are a danger, including some that have hit roads. Luckily, no cars or people have been hit.
Others testified that the additional traffic created by the turbines ruins the roads.
More than anything, however, those against the towers cited noise concerns.
“There is a problem,” said Judy Wilcox. “It is not all roses.”
Company representatives said they were not aware of any noise concerns. Nobody has reported them to the office in Elgin, they said.
The towers are proposed to have rotational blades of up to 118 meters and would be about 400 feet high.
Invenergy already operates 179 turbines in the county that were completed in three phases, with an investment of more than $500 million.
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