Nebraska lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday for and against a proposed two-year moratorium on wind farms in the Sandhills. And the 150th anniversary of statehood was celebrated in the Capitol.
Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon introduced the proposed moratorium on wind power development in the Sandhills. During the pause, a task force would study and make recommendations about the future siting of wind projects in the nearly 20,000 square mile area in central and western Nebraska.
Brewer said his goal is not to be pro-wind or anti-wind. Rather, he explained, “The reason I introduced this bill is to try and do something to heal the communities of my district. Commercial wind energy development in the Sandhills is tearing the communities apart.”
Controversy has erupted over proposals including a wind farm near Kilgore and a transmission line from Sutherland to Clearwater, as well as other possible developments.
Supporters say the projects will bring clean power and economic development; while opponents fear disrupting the unspoiled views and fragile ecology of the Sandhills.
Among those supporting the moratorium was Wayne Eatinger, whose ranch lies between Thedford and Valentine. “You know, if this wind development is the thing to do, it’ll be the thing to do a couple of years from now,” Eatinger said. “The Sandhills deserves special importance and special consideration. You know, if there’s a magic place on earth, it’s the Sandhills.”
Bree DeNaeyer, a Cherry County landowner and a board member of a company trying to develop wind power there, acknowledged divisions, but opposed the moratorium. “The chaotic environment pitting neighbor vs. neighbor is very accurate. But I don’t believe it’s something that can be legislated against. It’s something that it is each individual person’s responsibility to mend their own fences and figure out how we can get through this,” DeNaeyer said. We’re not going to be mollified by state laws or a two year ban. It’s simply going to kick the can down the road.
Tom Budler, president of BHE Wind, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway which owns the state’s largest wind farm near O’Neill, also opposed the moratorium. “It would send a message that Nebraska is not open for the business of wind development, and would encourage us and other likely developers to focus our financial resources in other states,” Budler said.
The proposal also divided environmental and conservation groups. George Cunningham of the Sierra Club supported the proposal. “Given all the land that has been converted to row crop agriculture – some 16 million acres in this state – or municipal/industrial development in Nebraska, we see no need to place energy development facilities on native grasslands, river blufflands, or near wetland complexes,” Cunningham said. “We believe the acreage necessary to meet Nebraska’s need for windpower could be met through existing converted lands.”
Chelsea Johnson of the Nebraska League of Conservation opposed the proposal, which she said would affect around a quarter of the state’s land area. “Of course we think it needs to be developed responsibly. And maybe that means increasing the sort of environmental requirements that are already in state statute. Maybe that means increasing the public input opportunity,” Johnson said. “But we don’t think that means taking out 25 percent of our state for two years and giving up the opportunity that could exist for landowners in that area to benefit from wind energy development.”
The Natural Resources Committee did not immediately act on the bill.
Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers and guests gathered in the legislative chamber to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Nebraska becoming a state. Gov. Pete Ricketts paid tribute to historical figures, from Standing Bear to George Norris.
Ricketts said the state is defined by more than just lines on a map. “We’re bound together by more than just our common geography. Nebraska is a culture – a way of life. It’s how we treat each other with dignity and respect, and how we work together to build this great state,” Ricketts said. “In fact Nebraska is what America is supposed to be.”
The ceremony also included speeches by Chief Justice Mike Heavican and Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer, a recitation by State Poet Twyla Hansen, and musical performances by singer Hannah Huston, a Waverly High School Octet, and a chorus from Lincoln’s Elliott Elementary School singing “Happy Birthday” to the state.
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