According to the American Wind Energy Association, as of fourth quarter, there have been 1,045 turbines installed in Nebraska with 26 wind projects. The state ranks 16th for number of wind turbines.
Burt County could potentially add to that number, though there are no applications yet.
The Burt County Planning Commission met Feb. 10 with a public hearing on setback regulations for wind and solar farms. The meeting was about what the county was doing in their comprehensive plan potentially redrawing setbacks as they relate to wind and solar power.
But more attended the meeting to discuss their concerns about the possible installation of 86 potential turbines reaching 650 feet proposed by Con Edison.
However, Graham Christensen, president and founder of GC Resolve, which is working with Con Edison, was at the meeting and said the number is actually smaller.
“We have settled on a partner in Con Edison out of New York, they’re doing a large wind farm but smaller than around the area,” he said. “We’ve never been far enough to ask for a permit or establish locations, but it would be about 25 wind turbines.”
Christensen said there has been a lot of “wild hysteria” going on.
“There were maps floating around with the 80 points,” he said. “We’ve never even gotten to the point of establishing location for the turbines because we have to go through the zoning and know how we are going to set them up. We’ve been restructuring the contracts with people who agreed to let Con Edison use their land.”
Rodney Bromm, chairman of the planning commission, said at the hearing they voted on windmills up to 500-feet tall to have a 1,500-foot setback, with windmills more than 500 feet to go to a half mile.
“The recommendations will go to the supervisors who will have a public hearing on wind and solar regulations and livestock setbacks, anything we’ve changed in our zoning regulations,” Bromm said. “They are all going to be heard at the public hearing and the supervisors have the final say.”
Bromm said the large wind turbines are something that the board needs to do a lot of research on it and visit existing ones.
“There has to be a lot more work done before we can approve something like that,” he said. “Any commercial wind turbine will have a conditional use permit from the county that requires a public hearing. None of these are just permitted. Everything will have a conditional use hearing.”
If the board of supervisors approves the setbacks, it won’t be only for the specific area in question for the large wind turbines.
“Our thoughts on the wind when we make these regulations, we have to look at the whole county,” Bromm said. “Maybe this deal doesn’t fit there, but it might fit somewhere in the county. We don’t want to legislate us out of it.”
Mark Van Der Hart, a member of the Tekamah County Airport Authority, said he is opposed to the wind turbines for technical facts, which he presented at the hearing.
“When you get into the facts you begin to see it’s not the picture being painted for us by the developer. What I presented to them was relative to the setbacks. I felt it needed to be understood that the acoustic signature that is put out by wind towers – it doesn’t mean loud noise but there is noise – you have to be a long way away from them to avoid the acoustic signature.”
Van Der Hart said he’s also concerned about the size of the turbines.
“These are not like the wind towers in Iowa. These are much taller and bigger than that. The higher you get the more undisturbed the air becomes. You need a constant flowing wind and with bigger fans,” he said. “The 650-foot is the height of the fan tip at its apex. The area of the fan is more than 3 acres. I want the residents to understand the size of these things.”
Van Der Hart said he’s not in opposition to looking for greener energy. “Let’s look at the facts here,” he said. “The only thing green about them is the money that goes in the investors’ pockets.”
He said wherever the towers are placed, residents need to be fully informed and educated about wind power. “It’s not just a simple cut and dry green energy.”
Ben Hollman lives in rural Lyons and said there are four proposed wind turbines within three-quarters of a mile from his house, if not closer.
“I’m not against economic development in the county but I think the setbacks they set should put more research into it throughout Nebraska and Iowa and talk with other boards – stop thinking about tax revenue and think about the quality of life,” he said. “It’s going to affect the whole county.”
Jill Spenner lives in rural Tekamah but did not attend the meeting. She is part of the Facebook group Burt County, NE Citizens United started by Jennifer Dolezal. The page began with the purpose of bringing awareness to things not mentioned when representatives tell only the positives.
Spenner said she thinks wind farms are “terrible.”
“I’m from a town that it ruined the view in Knox County in Nebraska,” she said. “Personally, I have been against them since my friend’s husband died due to lights on tower not working and it not being marked on the chart to show it was there.”
Spenner said she doesn’t believe the board members are listening to the residents.
“We just did a poll and found 70 percent of people are against them,” she said. “The lesser of two evils would be the solar panels, but our kids are going to be cleaning up our mess. Landfills are full of (broken windmills) already, why aren’t they still working if they areso great?”
One thing she worries about are health effects.
“The only positive things being said are by those who want to make money off of it. I know we aren’t going to get them all stopped but if I can get it reduced to five or 10 instead of more than 80. None of them are going to help Burt County.”
Dolezal lives in rural Burt County and attended the public hearing.
“While we understand their property rights, there’s also a point where it affects our property. We also have rights on our property,”she said. “If they are too close to our property lines it inhibits our ability to build on our property. We all have different concerns. Mine is not having a tower 1,000-1,500 feet from my home, not my property line. That’s too close.”
She brought up concerns about noise.
“In zoning these, they need to address those concerns.”
“Once it came time to their decision making, I feel like the board was more interested in asking questions to an investor than to the general public,” Dolezal added. “Zoning is best protection for non-participating people in the county. We understand a desire or need for renewable energy, we’re just not sure industrial energy in our backyard is the right way.”
Christensen said even if a wind farm would come into the county it wouldn’t be until 2023.
“The first step is revamping the zoning ordinances,” he said. “I supported increasing the setbacks, but I wanted to be more in line with supporting them but still sending a signal that the wind energy is welcome.”
He said he was advocating the setback to be 1,500 feet.
“The sound and flicker situations go away,” Christensen said. “Vibration isn’t a realistic issue.”
Christensen said he was blindsided by the amount of disinformation going around.
He said at the next meeting there will be more landowners with windmills there.
“We want to do it in a right way to respect people in Burt County,” he said.
The public hearing on zoning setbacks for the Burt County Board of Supervisors has not yet been scheduled.
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