CRESTON – A full house showed up Wednesday night for the second informational meeting on Creston Ridge Wind Farm at Alice’s Cedar Inn in Creston, where feelings toward the project ran the gamut from outright support to lingering resentment.
After Loup Public Power District President and CEO Neal Suess and Bluestem Energy Solutions project manager Adam Herink outlined the four-turbine wind farm and plans to add three more turbines to the site along Mason Road (205th Avenue) southwest of Creston, they opened the floor to questions.
The question-and-answer session started with a strong endorsement from John Richards, a former engineer with Nebraska Public Power District and current contractor with Omaha-based Bluestem who lives in the Creston area.
“When I see those turbines turning I think it’s a thing of beauty,” said Richards.
Another man, who declined to provide his name, asked why NPPD limits the amount of electricity wholesale customers like Loup can purchase from renewable-energy sources not tied to NPPD.
“Why is NPPD so determined to crush development in our region?” he asked.
The answer, according to Suess, is because NPPD is part of the Southwest Power Pool, which is regulated by the federal government. Because of safety issues and the inability to study small wind farms, they’ve had to limit those developments, Suess explained.
Suess said NPPD decided to allow up to 10 percent of its customers’ peak demands to come from outside sources because of its interest in rural economic development. Because renewable energy can be inconsistent, utilities must have a base load served by coal-powered plants, he said.
Platte County Supervisor Tom Martens asked about the likelihood of the project being expanded beyond seven turbines and if LPPD would hold similar informational meetings before a decision is made.
Because of the infrastructure, physical limitations and a new 20-year contract with NPPD, Suess said Loup doesn’t plan on expanding the wind farm site in the near future. If they consider an expansion, Suess said they will “be as open as we can.”
“Our board meetings are open and our board wants to hear from you,” said Suess. “We will have more informational meetings like this one if or when we decide to expand.”
On the subject of government subsidies, Herink said contracts for coal and gas exploration have resulted in huge subsidies for those industries.
“I’m not against coal,” said Herink. “But (Bluestem) is based on the resources we have and taking advantage of that opportunity. For every resource out there, there’s problems, but also upsides.”
A contingent of residents who live within 2 miles of the project sat together and again voiced their displeasure about not being directly contacted before the project was approved. Herink restated that he spoke with residents and the project had been covered by The Columbus Telegram in advance of approval and construction.
One woman, who declined to provide her name, said she’s concerned about how the turbines may affect residents’ health, citing articles she’s read. Suess and Herink pointed out that for every study that claims turbines have a negative effect on health, there are many others that say the opposite.
“Would you want these things in your backyard with children and grandchildren?” the woman asked.
“I’d have a nuclear plant in my backyard,” said Suess. “But that’s me.”
Suess said he believes a lot of the potential for renewable energy is not being taken advantage of because of misinformation regarding nuclear and wind power.
After about a year, Suess said LPPD can report to the Platte County Board of Supervisors and on its website how much energy has been generated at the wind farm. The power district is also developing a system to report how much electricity is generated by the hydroelectric plants.
The first four turbines of Creston Ridge are near Mason Road between 445th and 460th streets. The next three turbines, phase two of the project, will extend farther west and are expected to be completed this fall.
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