By a unanimous vote, a conditional use permit, approving construction of a 300 megawatt wind farm, with a majority of turbines in Antelope County, was approved by the Antelope County Commissioners Tuesday, Dec. 4, following a hearing attended by approximately 65 individuals.
Thunderhead Wind Energy, owned by Invenergy LLC, will be the fifth wind farm in the county.
Invenergy also owns Prairie Breeze I, II and III and the recently completed Upstream Wind Farm.
Construction on the Thunderhead project, located in the southwest portion of Antelope County, is expected to begin November 2020. The project, which extends into neighboring Wheeler County, will have 137 turbines located in Antelope County and 34 in Wheeler.
The electric collection system from turbine to turbine is anticipated to be primarily underground with a single overhead transmission line connecting the farm’s collector substation to a future Nebraska Public Power District substation in Holt County.
Approximately 15 comments and/or letters opposing the wind farm were heard. Those speaking against granting the CUP identified certain turbines planned for construction near residences, or future residences, at a distance less than 2,400 feet, which is a requirement for a non-participating landowner. Turbine decommissioning was also addressed several times.
Commissioner-elect Dean Smith of Brunswick asked if the Upstream project has met all requirements on citing and if proper documentation on decommissioning had been filed and reported properly. He presented concerns that the decommissioning agreement for the Upstream project was not signed by an Upstream official.
He said, “I think before we get farther into another project, we need to think about that.”
In addition to letters of opposition for the project, Antelope County Zoning Administrator Liz Doerr read letters in favor of the project and provided a list of 34 signatures of individuals in favor of the farm.
Individuals speaking in favor of the project included Robert Johnston, Keith Heithoff, David Behnk, Jim Koenig, Kathy Schultz, Duane Childers, Glen Schindler, Josh Moening and Gabe Steinmeyer among others.
Charlie Meis said he has three turbines on his farm that were included in the Prairie Breeze I wind farm and said he signed up the rest of his property as participating in the project. “These guys do it right,” said Meis.
Josh Framel, senior manager for renewable development for Invenergy, presented a brief slide show of the project as the public meeting began. He said turbine sizes may range from 2.4 to 3.8 mW each and total height of the turbines would not exceed 500 feet. Framel said Invenergy requested flexibility to shift the final location of each turbine up to 900 feet to optimize wind and adjust for subsurface conditions.
Framel said according to Antelope County tax records, the Prairie Breeze wind farms generated slightly under $900,000 in nameplate capacity tax and $200,000 in personal property tax for the county. He estimated the Upstream facility would contribute an additional $1,300,000 in combined taxes for the county.
Antelope County Road Boss Casey Dittrich asked the commissioners to consider instituting a penalty in the yet to be approved road agreement for Thunderhead. Dittrich said there were times during construction of the Upstream project, that roads had to be closed due to poor condition and safety hazards. The current road agreement with Invenergy regarding the Upstream project does not include stipulations as to road closures. Dittrich, after previously discussing the matter with Framel, asked the commissioners to consider a penalty of $2,500 per mile if roads included in the road agreement needed to be closed.
A motion to approve the conditional use permit for Thunderhead Wind Energy was made by Charlie Henery and seconded by Eli Jacob with Henery, Jacob, Ed Schindler and Jerry Schwager voting in favor. LeRoy Kerkman abstained.
The motion included 13 conditions as defined by the Antelope County Planning Commission in addition to a condition of a $2,500 per mile penalty for any roads in the road use agreement, closed to travel.
The 13 conditions include;
1. The permit shall run with the land. A change in land ownership shall not effect the CUP.
2. Equipment used for project construction must be located outside of the county right-of-way.
3. The CUP permits use on parcels identified as participating landowners.
4. Setbacks must be adhered to which include 2,400 ft. from the residence of a non-participating landowner and 1,000 ft. from a participating landowner.
5. Turbines must be located within 900 ft. from the proposed location.
6. Turbines must be installed with winter ice operation mode software.
7. Turbines must adhere to special safety and design standards as defined in the Antelope County zoning plan.
8. If non-participating landowners intend to build a new dwelling unit, the setback limit and 3,500 ft. clustering limitation will be required.
9. Thunderhead shall be allowed to cross or run parallel to any county road within the project area.
10. Zoning permits shall be issued for each individual turbine on or before Nov. 30, 2020.
11. Prior to issuing a zoning permit, the roads agreement, decommission plan, final site plan, environmental permits, driveway permits, exact global positioning, setback requirements and acoustical analysis must be met and a $500 fee per turbine must be paid.
12. Signs shall be posted at each turbine driveway.
13. Within 24 months of any phase of completion, a sound analysis is required.
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