- National Wind Watch: Wind Energy News - https://www.wind-watch.org/news -

Sand Hills wind farm proposal rejected by county board, but developer says idea isn’t dead

LINCOLN – A controversial proposal for a wind farm in Nebraska’s scenic Sand Hills was shot down by the Cherry County Board on Monday.

But a developer of the project said there’s a chance his group will reapply to erect a smaller number of wind towers in an area south of Nebraska Highway 20 near Kilgore.

“We still think it’s a viable project. There were some technicalities that were the reason” it was rejected, said Eric Johnson, vice president of Bluestem Sandhills.

The Cherry County Board voted 2-0 to reject Bluestem Sandhills’ application for a conditional-use permit to build a 30-turbine, $108 million wind farm.

One of the board’s three members, Jim Van Winkle, abstained from voting because of his membership in Cherry County Wind, a landowners group that was a partner in the project.

“I need nothing else for Christmas,” said Carolyn Semin of rural Kilgore, who organized opponents of the project and who lives within 2 miles of one of the turbine sites.

While small in scale compared with some other wind farms built recently in Nebraska, the Kilgore wind farm was the first large wind project proposed in Cherry County, a ranching county that has fewer than one person per square mile.

The project drew strong opposition from Semin and some other local residents, who said it would spoil the landscape, cause noise problems for nearby residents and not deliver the property tax savings that developers promised.

Promoters said the project would pay nearly $400,000 a year in property taxes, which would allow the county to reduce property taxes for ranchers and others. Landowners would also be paid $7,000 a year or more in lease payments per turbine, providing a new revenue source besides raising cattle.

At Monday’s meeting, Bluestem Sandhills discussed the possibility of reducing the number of wind towers from 30 to 17 by employing new, larger turbines.

Johnson said the change would allow the elimination of towers nearest to neighbors such as Semin and was needed because one landowner had changed his mind about having towers on his land.

He said the change then prompted discussion that the project had materially changed and that a new, amended proposal for a county permit would need to be submitted.

Semin said she didn’t think that Monday’s vote means that the wind farm idea is dead.

Johnson said that the backers of the wind farm must now decide how to proceed.

“From what I heard, this was not a vote against wind energy,” he said.