LINCOLN – Rural residents who dislike windmills clashed with renewable energy advocates and economic development officials over a bill that would regulate the construction of wind turbines.
The bill, from State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, would require any counties that allow the construction of new wind turbines to regulate their placement, noise and decommissioning. And for two years, while counties developed guidelines, wind turbines would need to be at least three miles away from a home.
Brewer said wind turbines are up there with property taxes as one of the top issues he hears about from constituents.
But opponents argue that Brewer’s measure, Legislative Bill 373, would stifle rural economic development and interfere with county control on the issue.
“We need to continue to be open for business,” said John Hansen of the Nebraska Farmers Union.
Brewer said he brought forth the bill on behalf of those who “are forced to live next to these facilities and have no say in their existence.”
“There has to be some way of protecting those adjoining landowners,” he said. “You’re going to look at this wind tower for the rest of your life and the rest of your kids’ lives.”
A few dozen residents of rural counties, including Cherry and Nuckolls, came to the Capitol to support the bill at a public hearing held by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
They described unhappiness with their county boards for what they say is a failure to listen enough to constituents’ concerns about turbines.
“The hearings get very emotional,” said Dean Smith, an Antelope County Board member.
Many were worried about noise or other problems from a turbine allowed on a neighbor’s property.
Those opposing the bill said wind energy projects are an economic development opportunity for Nebraska. And they noted that many counties already have restrictions on wind turbines.
Darby Paxton, executive director of Holt County Economic Development, said one such project brought 50 permanent jobs to the region.
He also said increased tax revenue allowed O’Neill Public Schools to do a $13 million expansion without a bond issue.
“Economic development relies on the people that live and work in the communities to make decisions that affect them,” Paxton said.
Several wind energy companies said a three-mile setback would halt development of wind energy in Nebraska.
Sen. Carol Blood, a member of the committee, noted that there is already a public input process in all counties that have zoning regulations.
And she and Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha questioned why the Legislature would restrict wind energy production and not other projects, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline.