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Wind farm proposed for Gage, Lancaster counties

Plans for a wind farm in northern Gage and southern Lancaster counties that failed to materialize may be resurrected by a different company.

The Blue Prairie Wind Project, an affiliate of NextEra Energy Resources, is proposing to build a wind energy generation facility in the two counties.

According to information from NextEra, the project consists of as many as 50 turbines, each up to 90 meters tall. The company hopes to be operational by 2020.

NextEra anticipates the $141 million project would create around 200 jobs during construction and generate more than $25 million in property taxes over a 30 year period.

The company is planning two informational events to discuss the project with the public. The events will both be at the Hallam Auditorium at 15 Main St. in Hallam on Tuesday, Oct. 9 from 5-7 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 10 from 7:30-9:30 a.m.

Gage County Planning and Zoning administrator Lisa Wiegand said the project is in the early stages and the company hasn’t applied for permits yet.

NextEra bought the project from Volkswind, a company that announced plans to build the wind farm four years ago.

Volkswind failed to follow through on the project after it prompted both Gage and Lancaster county officials to reevaluate their zoning regulations for wind turbines.

“They were really toying with a portion of theirs being between Gage and Lancaster counties,” Wiegand said. “Around 45-50 turbines is about what that project was. They just dropped it once Lancaster County showed some concerns with their regulations and then decided to move on elsewhere.”

In November 2015, Lancaster County commissioners approved regulations establishing noise limits of 40 decibels in the day and 37 at night for wind turbines.

Gage County updated its own regulations related to wind farms the following March, setting decibel limits of 60 for participating property owners and 45 during the day and 40 at night for nonparticipating residences.

A nonparticipating property is one that does not have an agreement with the wind system operator.

Volkswind’s plan called for 21 turbines in Gage County spanning 4,000 acres, before it was tabled.

“They had all the preliminary work and all the survey maps pretty much ready to go, and then they dropped interest,” Wiegand said. “I figured the project was completely dead and about two months ago, I got a call inquiring about our regulations, if we were revising our regulations and looking to make any changes.”

Wiegand said NextEra representatives have been in contact with her and will need to apply for a special use permit for the project. The permit process includes public hearings from both the Planning and Zoning Commission and County Board of Supervisors before final approval.

NextEra operates the Steele Flats Wind Energy Center, roughly three miles south of Diller. That facility was put into operation in 2013 and consists of 44 turbines.