NELIGH – What has been called the largest proposed construction project in Antelope County’s history was approved Tuesday by the county’s board of supervisors.
The county board voted 5-1 with one abstention to approve the Upstream Wind Energy project that is expected to result in construction and operation of about 160 wind turbines —mainly in five townships around Neligh – that will generate up to 350 megawatts of electricity annually.
Invenergy, which is based in Chicago, is the developer. The company already has invested more than $500 million in 179 turbines in three projects, many of which are in the southern part of the county and other counties, mostly near Elgin and Petersburg and south of Oakdale and Tilden.
Following a public hearing that was continued three times before the planning commission and another hearing that lasted about five hours last month, the county board spent more than an hour Tuesday discussing and adding stipulations to a conditional-use permit sought by Invenergy.
Emily Kobylarczyk, the Upstream project developer, said Invenergy appreciated the county’s thorough discussions.
“Upstream is excited to move forward with a project that Antelope County can be proud of. We support all the conditions and believe the supervisors were thoughtful and diligent in their discussion and decision, and we would like to thank all the Antelope County officials who spent extra time during the hearings and discussions that have taken place over the past six months,” Kobylarczyk said. “We look forward to continuing our partnership as a community member.”
Tuesday’s discussion mainly was among county supervisors. At one point early in the meeting, someone from the public attempted to give input. But Jerald Schwager, county board chairman, said the county could no longer receive testimony.
Some of the conditions of the permit include:
* Each of the turbines will require a building permit and site plan that shows key features, including paths of electrical lines above or below ground.
* The cost of each permit was raised from $350 to $500. County officials said the turbines require more county resources than other construction projects, such as site preparation inspections and setbacks and road maintenance, resulting in higher fees. In earlier projects in the county, building permits were not required.
* Signs will be posted outside of the turbines to contact company officials in case of emergency. Additionally, the towers will have identification that will make it easier for emergency responders to identify their locations.
* Invenergy will be required to purchase liability insurance to cover costs of accidents, such as ice possibly getting thrown off the blades.
* The county can require the company to shut down turbines during emergency situations or if ice is a problem. Studies also must be completed to identify shadow flicker from the blades, which varies depending on turbine direction and time of year. If shadow flicker is a problem, there may be certain hours during certain times of the year where particular turbines are shut down.
* Precise locations of towers must be identified by Global Positioning Systems.
During discussions, commissioners said monitoring for compliance would be complaint driven.
Additionally, the county plans to complete a wind study once the turbines are operational to make sure they are within specified noise limitations.
Keith Marvin of Marvin Planning Consultants, which has been working with the county, said it is within the company’s best interests to meet all requirements.
Marvin said failure to meet any of the conditions may result in a warning or could result in revocation of the permit.
One of the things that wasn’t decided during Tuesday’s discussions was how much of a security bond the company needed to put up to take down the wind towers when they are no longer operating.
Supervisors talked about having the bond required by year 14, but some commissioners said it should be much sooner in case the company gets in financial trouble.
The supervisors said they would establish the amount and time for the bond requirement before any permits are issued.
The new wind farm, which is one of the three biggest ever considered in the state, had been met with strong resistance during public hearings before the county board and a county planning commission. About 65 people attended Tuesday’s meeting.
Invenergy officials said the overall economic impact for the project would be about $3 million annually, including taxes, employee salaries and payments to landowners. That will total about $90 million during the life of the project.
Officials said about 470 jobs would be added to the county during construction of the approximately 160 turbines.
Officials said 10 to 12 technicians from the local area would be hired to work for the project.
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