WAYNE – Wayne County doesn’t have zoning, but self-imposed limits by the company planning to build a wind farm near Sholes will ensure the county maintains its rural integrity.
That was the message Wednesday evening from representatives of NextEra Energy during a question-and-answer session at the Wayne Fire Hall to discuss a proposed 160-megawatt wind farm that will provide power to the Omaha Public Power District.
A crowd estimated at 150 people filled the Wayne Fire Hall as questions were written on index cards and then read by Dr. Chuck Parker, a Wayne State College professor who served as moderator.
Six panelists, mostly from NextEra, answered the questions for more than 90 minutes before the session ended.
Some of those in the crowd expressed frustration that they could not offer opinions on the project and called the meeting format “one-sided.”
But Parker said the meeting shouldn’t have been viewed as a Wayne County commissioners meeting, but instead an opportunity to explain wind energy and allow residents to ask questions.
There were at least six law enforcement officers in uniform present from the Wayne Police Department and Wayne County Sheriff’s Department.
William “Rip” Leisure, an independent contractor who has worked on more than 20 projects for NextEra Energy, said it is important that landowners, the community and the company work together.
Leisure said the company will work with landowners and their schedules during turbine construction. Leisure said he is usually the first one at the site and the last one to leave.
“We try not to make enemies or cause a huge impact on normal life,” Leisure said. “We’re here to build a project. You’re here to till the land or whatever your profession might be.”
Leisure said he and company officials know there are going to be some people opposed to the project. But if they work together and communicate, it will be best for everyone, he said.
Once the wind farm is completed, company officials said six to 10 full-time jobs will be created. A company representative will be available to be reached 24 hours if there is a problem.
Philip Clement, project director for renewable development at NextEra, said his company will look toward Wayne State and Northeast Community College for employees to be trained in the industry.
“That’s the goal, hopefully to develop the skill set in the local areas so we can hire these people to work at the wind farm and keep the people in Wayne,” Clement said.
He said the economic benefits include that almost $600,000 in property tax revenues will be generated annually to Wayne County, making it the largest taxpaying entity in the county. The project is estimated to be in operation for about 30 years.
Company officials said it is proposed to be located in the western part of Wayne County from the northern border with Cedar County south to Stanton County.
It will consist of about 65 wind turbines, but the exact location of the turbines has not yet been determined. The company is still looking at studies and will work with landowners.
NextEra Energy has more than 10,000 wind turbines and is the largest generator of wind energy in the world, operating in the United States and Canada.
The company plans to build its own transmission line to the Hoskins substation to get the power on the grid. The company will pay for the line and build it to NPPD standards.