BEATRICE – Opponents of a proposed wind farm in northern Gage County achieved one victory last night, following a nearly five-hour hearing on a proposed amendment to county wind farm regulations.
The Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 6-1 to recommend that the setback distance between wind towers and non-participating rural homes be increased from the current three-eighths of a mile, to one mile. The proposed amendment also calls for independent testing regarding sound levels produced by wind farms.
The hearing, at the Beatrice High School Hevelone Center, drew approximately 200 people. Kelly Lenners urged commission members not to consider only the financial benefit wind developers promote on such projects.
“Everyone in Gage County is concerned about finances since the Beatrice Six. So, when industrial wind companies come in and say they will bring millions to the county, we all jump. But, we need to all slow down and take the time to really read the numbers and look at the small print. Because when we put the numbers together, the benefits truly do not outweigh the negative impacts to our county…finances included”.
David Bargen, of rural Adams is an attorney who represents rural landowners opposed to a proposal by NextEra Energy that would include some 50 turbines on land mostly owned by one entity and leased for farming. Bargen said the increase in modern turbine tower height to about 500 feet makes the county’s current setback no longer appropriate.
“Gage County at this moment is at a crossroads. You will hear tonight from various speakers on a number of topics regarding wind tower regulations, including financial considerations, property rights, values, impact on development, on agriculture, health concerns and nuisance issues. Decisions the county makes now will impact the county for the next 30 to 50 years”.
An opponent of the one-mile setback, Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen, told the commission that there are similarities between development of the ethanol industry, and allowing landowners the right to lease land to wind companies.
“The farm economy is in trouble, and we’re just about at the revolt stage with the level of property taxes in this state. So, when we can bring in capital investment, we can build new tax base, we can bring in new farm income….these are not minor things”.
Opponents to the wind farm told the commission that many of those opposing the increased setback distance do not reside within the county. But there were supporters of the amendment from outside the county, as well. Nebraska State Lawmaker Tom Brewer of Gordon, a wind energy opponent, urged the county to support the one-mile restriction.
“I don’t agree with the one mile…..I think it should be two miles”.
Much of Thursday night’s testimony involved disagreement over the health effects of wind farms, and whether they affect property values……both sides citing studies to back up their positions. David Bracht, an Omaha attorney who has represented NextEra, is a former Nebraska Energy Director. He urged officials to look at science-based data and learn from those who have lived around wind farms.
“I can tell you a one-mile setback would be among the most stringent…and so that would set Gage County and this part of the state apart from what we’re seeing all across the midwest….which would inhibit us from a very significant natural resource. As you’re considering this amendment, I hope that you think about not only the facts you hear, recognizing that you’re going to hear a lot of contradictory facts…..but look what real people have experienced who are around us…and how that’s impacted them and benefitted them and how it could also benefit our community and our state”.
In the 6-1 vote to recommend increasing the setback distance to one mile, Commission Chairperson Dennis Rosene cast the only dissenting vote.
The issue now goes to the Gage County Board of Supervisors, which will also conduct a public hearing and make a final decision.