Permits for wind energy will not be accepted by Gage County after the Board of Supervisors approved a moratorium on turbine meetings during Wednesday’s meeting.
The moratorium, initially proposed two weeks ago for a period of four months, was amended before approval this week and will now last for the next three months.
“If we’re going to enact something like that we can’t take it lightly,” said County Board Chairman Erich Tiemann. “I think it’s very important that we have a time limit on it. This doesn’t put favor for or against, this has to have a specific purpose. I think the intent if this resolution would be to pump the brakes, allow the process to take place, which has been on hold for quite some time, and then get started again. Three months is not a lot of time when you consider how long this has gone so far.”
Halting the permit process was driven by a proposal from a group of Gage County landowners to amend wind regulations. That proposal was presented last March, and administrators are yet to decide if the proposed changes will adopted.
While the process has been a lengthy one and still has no end in sight, Tiemann added there have been several factors that contributed to the delays.
“I said it was pathetic how long this took,” Tiemann said. “I’ll reiterate that statement. I still think it was pathetic how long it took for this to be looked at and reviewed. That wasn’t directly at (planning and zoning). They’ve been doing a good job. I think the entire board supports our planning and zoning.”
The amendment to the regulations was presented by Cortland-area resident Larry Allder.
Prairie Wind Watchers, the group spearheading the requested amendments, is focusing on specific changes it would like to see made by the county.
A primary concern is increasing current setback requirements that stipulate turbines must be 3/8 miles from residences. The group is asking that figure to be increased to one mile.
The group is also asking officials to make changes to how decibel levels are calculated.
Wording in the current regulations allows wind energy companies to conduct their own testing, which some think gives them an unfair advantage.
While the changes would apply to all future commercial turbines, the push for change has been largely driven by a proposal from NextEra Energy Resources to build a 50-turbine wind farm in northern Gage County, a roughly $225 million investment in the area.
The process was stalled last year while officials debated how to best notify property owners about the proposal. It was further delayed when planning and zoning business was called off in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Planning and Zoning Commission is planning its first meeting since the pandemic on Thursday, July 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Hevelone Center at Beatrice High School. The larger venue was selected to allow for social distancing, which was a concern with the hearings that draw around 100 people.
In March, the County Board voted to no longer accept special use permit applications, which NextEra will need before continuing with the project, due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
The board voted two weeks ago to again accept applications for special use permits, though stipulated it would still not accept applications for wind or solar projects at that time.
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