PIERCE – The Pierce County board of commissioners were given a lot to think about Thursday evening as a result of a public hearing on proposed wind energy-related regulations.
The hearing, which was moved from the commissioners’ room to the courtroom to allow for more seating, included more than 90 minutes of testimony from 22 people. Most reflected sentiments against wind energy or in favor of stringent regulations.
Commissioners adjourned without taking any action on the proposed regulations, which were forwarded for consideration from the county’s planning commission.
All those attending the meeting were provided with a five-page handout that included definitions and the regulations being proposed.
Brice Barton of Colby, Kan., vice president of development for Tradewind Energy, provided overall information on wind turbines – from economics to the siting of turbines.
Barton said wind is the cheapest source of electricity with or without the impact of federal property tax credits. But that was a point that others at Thursday’s hearing disagreed with.
Barton said every source of energy has or had some sort of subsidy. Wind has taken less than 3 percent of federal tax incentives over the last 50 or more years, with renewable fuels and fossils fuels both higher, he said.
Barton said one person can have a lot of control over wind tower locations through setbacks.
As an example, a person who lives on one acre of land would require a 2,700-foot setback in all directions in Pierce County’s proposed regulations. That means, in effect, that one person covers 526 acres, he said. Other counties, such as Antelope County require 2,400 feet as a setback – and others even less.
Barton led the testimony in favor of wind energy. He and Vickie May of rural Lynch, who represented those opposed, were each given 15 minutes to testify. Others were limited to three minutes and were encouraged to provide written comments or evidence.
May, who graduated from Pierce High School, said she now lives next to the largest wind turbine farm operating in Nebraska in northeast Holt County.
“It has turned our life upside down,” May said.
She said even though they are 1!-E miles from the closest turbine, there are nights they consider going to a motel so they can sleep because of the noise the wind farm causes.
May said her husband served on the Holt County Planning Commission, so they both are familiar with the pressure that counties are under when it comes to wind energy and economic development.
“They throw a lot of big numbers around,” she said. “Our project was touted at bringing in $2.6 million. The last time we talked with real numbers, it was down to $1.4 million.”
One of the problems with wind turbines is that 80 percent of the people who have them on their property either live in town or out of state, but the people who live in the area have to put up with them, she said.
State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon said he believes wind turbines are tearing apart Nebraska communities in his district.
Brewer said that he is looking at seeking to pass legislation that would enact a moratorium on wind energy development.
Barb Otto of Spencer said other states, such as Tennessee and North Carolina, have enacted moratoriums on wind energy.
Otto said people from all over the world are joining together now to fight wind towers.
“Knowledge is power,” she said.
Barton said she was surprised to hear Barton indicate wind energy is profitable without the property tax credit. If that is so, she challenged Barton’s company to do a wind farm in Pierce County without it.
Others who testified discussed negative health effects from wind turbines.
Charlotte Endorff of Hadar, who travels all over Nebraska and several other states, said she recently experienced migraine headaches that she attributed to the rotation of the turbines during a visit to Minnesota.
If Pierce County allows wind turbines, she will have to move, she said.
Several people who testified said they thought it was a conflict of interest for people who served on the planning commission that developed the wind energy regulations to have family members who have already signed agreements with wind farm companies to potentially provide land easements.
Ranea Rystrom, a member of the planning commission, said she has every right to help form proposed rules when commission members aren’t acting on any specific permit application.
“Legally, it is not a permit,” she said. “It is rules and regulations.”
Rystrom said her service on the planning commission also means she helps to make rules and regulations pertaining to livestock. The argument suggested by wind farm opponents would then mean that her family shouldn’t be involved in any livestock operations, either.
That’s ridiculous, she said.
Rystrom said she has never been approached by a wind turbine company, nor is she receiving any money from one.
What’s important for Pierce County residents to remember is that the planning commission looks at facts – “not emotions and not tears. A person has a right to their feelings, but it is hard, concrete facts (that we consider),” she said.
The county board will next meet on Monday, Nov. 6, at 9 a.m., with the wind tower regulations expected to be among the items listed on the agenda. However it was not clear after Thursday’s meeting if commissioners would be ready to make a decision already next week.
The county adopted a six-month moratorium in June in order for the county to be able to update its regulations. The moratorium doesn’t allow the county board to consider any wind farm applications during that time. Once the regulations are in place, the moratorium is expected to be lifted.
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