November 18, 2021

Gage County finalizes tougher set of wind energy development regulations

Weeks of deliberation over stricter rules, come to a vote | By Doug Kennedy | Wednesday, November 17th 2021 |

BEATRICE – The Gage County Board Wednesday approved final amended regulations on wind energy companies that some officials say prevents any further wind development in the county.

Before the final vote, supervisors approved an additional amendment requiring an escrow account ahead of wind energy permit approval, to handle decommissioning and restoration, should a wind farm be no longer used.

County Board member Emily Haxby, who led the effort toward new regulations favored by northern Gage County rural residents…said a lot of time went into the process. “The only thing I’d like to say is I appreciate everybody’s time in this. While I would have liked to see a few other changes….what we have today is the consensus of the board.”

The new regulations establish setbacks from non-participating property owners as great as three miles. Previously, the board had approved a setback of one mile, at the request of rural homeowners.

The vote on final approval was 6-1. Supervisor Don Schuller dissented…saying that the new regulations severely restrict property rights. “This board recently passed resolutions opposing actions designed to improve our climate, our heritage and our local economy…based on unfounded fears that federal programs could threaten private property rights. But today, we sit here as this board proposed to remove property rights. The public health, safety or welfare don’t justify these restrictive regulations.”

Schuller said one portion of the county should not, in his words, “impose its fears on everyone.”

Has the issue of wind development regulation finally ended in the county? That depends on who you ask. Supervisor Terry Jurgens supported the new rules.

“I would not be against, at some point, looking at segregating the south and the north and changing some rules so that if there was some interest in that area….that could happen.”

Board member Gary Lytle says he does have some concern about private property rights now that the vote has been taken. He said he’s pretty sure the conversation will continue about wind energy. “Partly of because we’ve gone so far this way now. I think part of that is going to create conversation in the future. Maybe not. Maybe the wind companies, people who are interested, aren’t even going to consider it anymore….and just forget it. But, that’s my one concern with what we’ve done today.”

County Board Chairman Erich Tiemann acknowledged there is still some thought of split zoning when it comes to wind energy development.

“We’re a diverse county. We’re a large county. Comparing north and south is very similar to comparing east and west with the state itself. Our demographics are different….or population is different….our potential for growth, is different.”

Gage County is home to part of the Steele Flats Wind Farm, in the southwest part of the county. The new regulations underwent legal review by the Gage County Attorney.

One issue the county is yet to deal with, is the current moratorium on wind and solar development permits, set to expire at the end of this year.

That issue may be on the board’s next agenda, whether to end the moratorium altogether……or keep it in place on solar energy, until regulations are finalized for that sector.

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