MADISON – Energy systems continue to attract attention in Northeast Nebraska, with wind towers, solar farms and pipelines all proposed or being built.
That’s OK with the Madison County board of commissioners, which discussed energy projects during a meeting earlier this week.
Commissioners said they are receptive to all types of energy proposals, pointing out that they would weigh the additional economic benefits along with any environmental concerns or others before making a decision on a project.
Commissioner Ron Schmidt said when it comes to wind energy, he has attended various informational meetings and found both people who support and are against wind.
The commissioners are aware that a wind energy company reportedly has begun making contacts with some landowners about constructing wind towers in the northern part of Madison County, mostly around Meadow Grove.
Heather McWhorter, the zoning administrator for Madison and Pierce counties, said a company representative informed her of the company’s intentions to begin talking to landowners about securing easements for turbines in Madison County.
It was back in 2007-08 that the Madison County Joint Planning Commission and county board approved a set of wind regulations dealing with such issues as setbacks for wind turbines. There has been discussion of updating those regulations based on the experiences of nearby counties that already have wind farms operating there.
McWhorter said she definitely believes there is a need to update the wind regulations for Madison County.
“They are outdated,” she said. “They probably weren’t intended for the wind farms we have now. The industry has evolved. The size has gotten bigger – everything from the towers to the megawatts.”
Pierce County also is working on updated wind regulations, where the issue was more pressing because companies began seeking easements about 18 months ago, she said.
Pierce County has proposed new regulations that are more stringent than those in place in Madison County and other nearby counties. But they have yet to be formally approved and are scheduled to be considered again Monday by the county board.
Other counties have been even more stringent with regulations. Stanton County, for example, voted last November to prohibit wind farms entirely.
Lu Nelsen, a policy program associate with the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, said the center is planning to release an information guide for elected officials and counties on Monday that deals with wind energy.
“It will be the most bare-bones definitions that you’d probably want to include in your ordinances and the reasons why you would want to include them,” Nelsen said.
The guide will provide some rationale for the recommendations, he said.
Nelsen said it is worth noting that Northeast Community College in Norfolk has a program for people who want to work in the wind industry. The instructors are able to adapt the curriculum to respond to needs in wind energy in an effort to reduce or eliminate problems so everyone can be satisfied, he said.
Jim Prauner, Madison County board chairman, said he neither is in favor nor against wind farms. The county is willing to listen to any proposals, he said, and each project would be judged on its own merits.
“Where they would want to put it would make a lot of difference,” Prauner said.
Schmidt said he hasn’t been contacted recently by anyone opposed to wind energy. He agreed that Madison County should be open to any proposals, but “there are some areas in the county that probably (wouldn’t work).”
But it isn’t just wind that is drawing interest. The Pierce County board of commissioners was contacted by developers earlier this year about developing a large-scale solar farm.
McWhorter said the company discussed the possibility of a solar farm that would generate about 200 megawatts of power, with the plan to double it at some point. It could cover up to 1,000 acres, she said.
Both Prauner and Schmidt said they believe solar collection farms are among the least controversial of any energy generation proposals. It’s a clean energy with no noise or change in the landscape.
Both commissioners said they would be open to solar farm proposals, as well as the Keystone XL pipeline through the county – if it proceeds.
In January, TransCanada Corp. indicated that it is moving forward with its plans for the pipeline, with hopes to begin construction next year.
Company officials in Calgary, Canada, said in a release that the company had secured enough long-term commitments from oil companies to move forward.
The company indicated it has about 500,000 barrels per day of firm, 20-year commitments, positioning the proposed project to proceed.
McWhorter said the county doesn’t have much control over zoning of pipelines because they are below ground.
The exception would be if the county would get a pumping station, which would provide a significant economic boost for the county, she said.
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