BEATRICE – The Gage County Board heard hours of testimony yesterday on a Cortland’s man’s proposed amendment that would increase the setback distance from wind turbines and non-participating rural homes, to one mile.
A group of northern Gage County property owners are opposed to a potential wind farm between Pickrell and Cortland. NextEra Energy Resources is proposing a wind energy project but has not yet filed a formal permit application. Company project manager, Billy Wilkins, acknowledged that an increase in setback from three-eighths-of-a-mile, to one mile, would essentially stop the project in the northern part of the county.
Earlier after a lengthy hearing, the county’s planning commission recommended approval of the amendment, on a 6-1 vote.
Kendra Monroe, of rural Cortland, said an online survey indicated residents support the setback change. The five-question survey included 555 respondents, who did not have to give their names.
“Out of those 555 responses, there were 490 residents…or 88.3%…who voted in favor of the one-mile setback…and 65 residents, or 11.7%..who were okay with the current setback”.
Wednesday’s testimony at the Beatrice High School Hevelone Center often morphed into whether one supports, or opposes wind energy…rather than the amendment itself.
Sean Flowerday is Chairman of the Lancaster County Commissioners, where he said changes in setback ended wind energy development in his county. He urged Gage County officials not to increase setback distances to the point that it excludes wind energy development.
“Last year, the Lancaster County Board settled upon a compromise of five-times turbine height. If you want proof positive that we missed the mark with that compromise, and excluded ourselves from all the opportunities provided by wind development…then please take note that you have a wind developer here, who wants to build a project in your community, and we no longer have that chance”.
Flowerday said the turbine height regulation had nothing to do with sound science, but was instead the result of negotiations to reach a number. He said Gage County should instead focus on noise limits of turbines.
Attorney David Bargen, of rural Adams represents property owners supporting the higher setback distance.
“Industrial wind towers are not a common structure. They are highly unusual in a class of their own, and because of their immense size, footprint and impact on surrounding properties, it is appropriate that they are treated uniquely under the zoning code. Decisions the county makes now on wind tower regulations will impact the county for the next 30 to 50 years, and beyond….especially where NextEra wants to build wind towers in the northern part of the county. County leaders must think strategically about the best developments for the county’s future. Northern Gage County is prime for development. Industrial structures like wind towers will stop, or even reverse that development”.
Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning, who works in the renewable energy sector, is from an area where extensive wind energy development has taken place in surrounding counties. “For some who have convinced themselves that wind energy is a terrible thing, and would prefer to never see a turbine anywhere, there are others who see it as a growing business opportunity that if pursued responsibly, is a property right and economic benefit to the entire area”.
The Gage County Board has the final say on the proposed wind regulations amendment.
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