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County opposing wind energy bill

The Gage County Board of Supervisors is opposing a bill that officials say would hinder wind energy in the state.

Introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of District 43, LB373 would deal with setback and other regulations for wind turbines.

Lisa Wiegand with Gage County Planning and Zoning said during Wednesday’s regular County Board meeting that the proposal was designed with Cherry County, which Brewer represents, in mind. Applying the proposal to areas like Gage County would be detrimental in three ways, she said.

• The bill requires a three-mile setback from turbines to residences.

• There’s no variable allowed for turbine height.

• The bill strikes the opportunity to take a wind energy issue before a variance committee.

Wiegand said three-mile setbacks would cripple wind energy in Gage County, due to the larger rural population.

“If you look at Gage County and you look at the three mile demographics that’s being proposed, that pretty well places a moratorium on any development,” she said. “Not saying those are for or against, but it’s a moratorium against because of our density and land use is so different.

“When we developed our wind regulations our goal was to create a balance between those people who choose to participate and not participate.”

Gage County’s current setback requirement is 1/3 mile for nonparticipating residences and no setback for participating landowners, which are people who own the land or have contracts for turbine use.

County Board member Matt Bauman questioned why the state would get involved in wind regulations rather than allowing counties to reach their own regulations.

“This is a local issue, why are they trying to make it statewide?” he asked. “This should be a countywide issue… If Cherry (County) wants every three miles, that’s on them. I don’t know why they would try and impose something for the entire state. It’s a local issue.”

The board ultimately voted 6-1 to submit a letter of opposition to the legislature, with Gary Lytle casting the lone vote in opposition. He cited numerous public hearings where residents expressed concern about health issues related to wind turbines as his reason for not wanting to publicly oppose the bill.

“I’m just not comfortable,” he said. “We’ve heard enough conversation in the last year from opponents of wind energy being outside their back door as far as health issues and that. I don’t want to be on the record with this letter.”

Despite hearings at county meetings regarding wind regulations, board member Dennis Byars said it was the county’s responsibility to submit the letter and let senators know its position.

“The problem is when you’re sitting in a committee in the legislature and you don’t hear opposition then you start to feel that people are in support of the bill that we have introduced,” he said. “The committee wants to hear if we’ve got problems and don’t think it’s a good idea. If we just ignore it, then we just give up.”

State senators will discuss the bill during a Thursday hearing.