March 12, 2020

Gage County Planning Commission to set public hearing on wind regulations amendment

Overflow crowd attends Gage County Planning Commission to voice concerns about possible wind farm, regulations | Wednesday, March 11th 2020 |

BEATRICE – Gage County’s Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on possible wind farm rule changes, governing tower setback and noise limits.

The commission voted 6-1 to move ahead with that step, hearing from a packed county board room during a public comment period, Tuesday night. Well over 100 people attended… in the county supervisors room, an adjoining room, the hallway outside and across the hall at the county clerk’s office.

Larry Allder of rural Cortland filed an amendment with the commission more than a year ago. Several in attendance stood in support of changing the county’s setback on wind towers from three-eighths-of-a mile, to one-mile from non-participating landowners…and adjusting the current decibel limits.

“There are also a lot more Gage County residents that have signed a petition, supporting these changes. And, the more people that become informed about this industrial wind project, the more support this text amendment is getting. This has been put off too long, we need to take action on this text amendment. I know this is a new process for Gage County, but this has been stalled for over a year, and needs to move forward”.

NextEra Energy Resources is considering a 50-turbine wind farm on land between Cortland, Adams and Pickrell. The company has not filed a formal permit application on the project. Opponents are concerned about potential health effects from the noise and shadow the turbine blades make, but most voicing their opinions were concerned about effect on property values and growth.

Kelly Lenners and her husband James live in rural Adams. She cited a realtor study about impact of wind turbines on properties, that maintains they negatively impact values from ten to forty percent. She asked the commission to consider highly populated, growing areas of the county.

“So, it’s really not about our belief or disbelief in renewable energy. But, it is about the livelihood of our agriculture and residential communities and the prospering growth that our county is currently seeing….and what we want to see in the future”.

NextEra has been negotiating agreements with participating rural residents, many who lease land in the area from a single owner, Scully Estates. Ryan Reiss is General Manager for the company.

“We have signed up about eighteen thousand acres…and on that eighteen thousand acres, there are nine houses. So, it just kind of shows the other side of the coin when you’re talking about population densities. What you really need is a set of regulations you can apply county-wide, and then as the application would come in for a project, you can look at the specifics of that situation. That’s the beauty of the special use permit”.

Reiss said the company has not stifled renters of their land from voicing a position on the proposed wind farm.

Attorney Jeff Gaertig of Beatrice represents landowners concerned about the wind project.

“This is about economics. It’s about property valuation and devaluation. It’s about the erosion of the tax base. That’s what I fear could happen. With the county having a $28.1 million judgment hanging over its head to pay, I’m concerned that we are going to erode our tax base. And then, you get into the science, and nuisance and health issues of these wind turbines. I’m concerned that we’re exposing ourselves to risk economically, and from science and health if we don’t do something about tightening our rules and regs”.

Opponents of the wind farm say the setback should be measured from their property line, not from the nearest part of a home to a wind tower base. The county’s current daytime noise limit on wind towers is 45 decibels…..40 decibels in the overnight period.

Beatrice School Superintendent Jason Alexander heads a district where the wind towers would be located.

“In a time when we have issues such as the Beatrice Six…issues such as too high property tax…issues such as paying too much taxes for everything…this is a sensible solution to generating more revenue”.

He urged the commission to keep an open mind on the science and impact of wind farms.

Emily Haxby of rural Clatonia says a survey on the amendment generated 374 responses, with 339 in favor of a one-mile setback, and 34 persons saying the three-eighths-of-a-mile setback is adequate.

The planning commission has not set the date for the upcoming public hearing.

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