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Views on wind energy as changing as March breezes

PIERCE – Landowners in Pierce and Wayne counties are being asked to sign lease contracts with wind energy companies – just like what is taking place in many other areas of Nebraska.

The possibility of utility-scale wind turbines being eventually located in the two counties has caused concerns among some residents, which is what prompted an informational meeting to be scheduled Tuesday evening at the Lied Pierce Public Library.

The meeting room was filled to capacity, with all 50 chairs at the meeting taken and an overflow crowd attending the three-hour meeting.

So far, no applications have been filed with Pierce County seeking any kind of zoning changes relating to wind farms, but property owners mentioned at least two companies that have approached them with contracts for leases.

F. John Hay of Lincoln, a University of Nebraska Extension educator who specializes in energy work, was one of the presenters. He said just about all areas of Nebraska have been proposed for wind farms, but few actually will get developed.

“A lot of Nebraska is good, but there are a lot of places that are better,” Hay said, noting that Petersburg and Bloomfield are among the best areas, which is wind farms have developed there.

Even if there are signed contracts with landowners, wind farms don’t get built unless the company or investors building the farm can get a contract to buy the power that will be generated, he said.

Nebraska has been late to develop its wind energy potential compared to other states for a variety of reasons, including that Nebraska was a public power state and legislation had to be created so private companies could take advantage of the tax incentives available for wind generation.

The information that was presented at Tuesday’s meeting included both positive and negative aspects of wind farms. The presenters also included Dave Vavra of Doniphan and Wes Blecke, executive director of Wayne Area Economic Development.

The noise generated by the turbines was one of the topics at Tuesday’s meeting. Presenters said some people have lived closer than 1,000 feet to them and never noticed them. Others find them so distracting that they have moved.

Hay said there are various studies about noise, which is subject to many variables.

“The science of it will melt your brain,” Hay said. “It’s really complex.”

Much of the presentation was a history of wind energy and how Nebraska has come to where it is now, with many companies interested in wind energy and more development taking place recently.

Most of the comments and questions from audience members shared at the meeting were against wind energy. Some people urged others to research the topic and learn about the negative points of living next to them, which can include such factors as noise, ice flinging off them and flutter in the sun’s shadow.

Among the benefits mentioned were jobs during construction, payments to landowners and roughly $350,000 in tax revenue annually for the host county with a 100 megawatt wind farm. That same size wind farm would be expected to employ 10 to 20 full-time employees once operational.

Information shared at the meeting included that there are proposed wind farms around Sholes, which is south of Randolph; around Winside and perhaps the largest one to be built in the state in Dixon County.