For more than hour Tuesday night, people spoke against building a wind farm on NCORPE’s 16,000 acres in southern Lincoln County.
The objections came during the public comments session before the NCORPE board of directors meeting got underway.
Later, the board went into closed session for nearly two hours, discussing a potential contract with wind and solar energy developer Invenergy. They took no action.
Shortly after the meeting was called to order, businessmen, ranchers and farmers spoke in opposition. Some of them live and work in Lincoln County. Others came from counties where wind farms have been built or are under consideration.
A common objection was that development of a wind farm goes beyond the purpose of NCORPE.
NCORPE owns about 16,000 non-irrigated acres some 20 miles south of North Platte. The land is dedicated to pumping water from below ground into the Republican and Platte rivers to fulfill legal requirements.
NCORPE is comprised of four of Nebraska’s 23 natural resource districts, which were established in 1972 to conserve, protect, develop and manage natural resources.
Mike Kelly, a Sutherland area rancher and former member of the Twin Platte Natural Resource District, said the purpose of NRDs is not to develop land, but to protect it.
Skip Marland, a bank officer and agricultural real estate broker, said wind farms are known to leave a legacy of destruction, starting with the soil that is removed for the concrete footings of the towers. The concrete footings can be 30-40 feet deep and remain in the ground even it the towers are decommissioned, critics say.
Kelly described remnants of decommissioned oil fields in Oklahoma, of rusty derricks and tanks. He said a wind farm would set up the same situation.
State Sen. Mike Groene of Lincoln County said the prospect of NCORPE building a wind farm in Lincoln County flies in the face of local control. He said most members of NCORPE do not represent Lincoln County, but other counties.
Groene called on NCORPE to sell the land but keep the water rights, to continue to perform its original function, but not monopolize the land.
Tony Baker, an aide to state Sen. Tom Brewer of the Sandhills, said the creation of NCORPE to pump water was controversial enough, and now it’s come to this.
“What if today the discussion was to create NCORPE and put wind towers on the land?” he asked.
Eric Hansen, who is on the board of the Twin Platte NRD, put it directly. He said he didn’t believe a government entity should get involved with development.
Others warned of the complexities of a wind energy easement lease. One person said wind energy easements restrict hunting, fencing and the establishment of windbreaks, and the developer typically has the option to renew the lease after the first 30-40 year term.
Also, the developer can place a mortgage on the wind farm, something that doesn’t jive with public land.
Terry Madson of the Hastings area, asked the board if anyone had read the lease.
NCORPE General Manager Kyle Shepherd, who conducted the meeting, declined to answer. He said the lease is under negotiation.
Madson, a member of a group called the Nebraska Coalition for Responsible Energy, said the coalition is concerned about negative health and property tax impacts of wind farms. He then asked board members to raise their hands if they had read the lease. No one did.
Doug Nelson of Wayne said financially, wind turbines never pay for themselves. They generate about $6 of electricity per hour, or around $52,000 a year. That is not be enough to pay the interest or depreciation on the wind tower and turbine, which cost about $2.4 million each to build, install and bring online, he said.
“Never be the first to jump on the bandwagon nor the last one to get off,” Dr. Brent Steffens of Kearney told the NCORPE board. Steffens also owns land in the sandhills.
“Don’t be the last one off,” Steffens said. “Look at the experiences of other states – Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas.”
More than a dozen people spoke, some of them twice. The objections lasted for 70 minutes. The only somewhat neutral comment came from a man who suggested that a solar energy farm would be less disruptive to the environment.
“Solar panels don’t have be 140 feet in the air,” he said.
The board went into executive session for two hours to discuss the lease but took no action, Shepherd said after the meeting.
Shepherd said concerns expressed about lease restrictions and renewals would not necessarily be apt for Lincoln County. He said conditions vary from lease to lease according to particular agreements.
NCORPE will meet again in mid-January. Shepherd said the prospect of developing an energy farm will likely be an agenda item at that meeting too.
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