Jefferson County Commissioners held a hearing on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in the courtroom of the Jefferson County Courthouse to give members of the public the opportunity to express their opinions on proposed changes to wind farm regulations. Many different points of views were expressed.More than 200 people attended the meeting and approximately 70 citizens spoke. Due to the number of people who wished to speak, time was limited to three minutes for each, although a number of speakers went over their allotted time.Presented here in this story are just a few of those points of view.
“We, as commissioners, have been contacted by literally hundreds of people in the last week,” said county commission chairman Mark Schoenrock at the start of the hearing.
“There are strong feelings on both sides of this issue and whatever we, the board, decide today, we would ask that we don’t let this divide our community.”
Commissioner Michael Dux said, “Whatever decision is made, let’s get along. Whatever decision is made, everybody get along. I don’t know where Mark and Gale (Pohlmann) stand. I don’t know where I stand now. We have an open mind. And I’ll guarantee at the end of the day, if we vote differently, we’re still going to be friends.”
Schoenrock also addressed rumors that commissioners would personally benefit financially from proposed wind farms, “We, your board commissioners, none of use has any personal, financial interest, in any decision we make. None of us has any land that would be considered for wind energy and we don’t have any personal financial interest in this.”
Last year, commissioners voted unanimously to institute a six-month moratorium on wind farm applications, feeling it was necessary to review and possibly revise the policies that govern the placing of wind turbines within the county, due in large part to changing technology. Commissioners have expressed that, while the new regulations should protect non-participating landowners, they should not be so restrictive as to make new wind turbines prohibitive for those who do wish to participate.
Claims of Speakers
Like many other controversial subjects, there is a lot of information available online about wind farms. Many of the individuals who spoke also provided commissioners with pages and pages of research. One person brought six large binders for Commissioners to review. FJN has not seen these pages nor determined their sources or accuracy. Likewise, much of what was said at the meeting also has not been verified by FJN.
One of the changes to the regulations was to lower the acceptable sound from a turbine from 60 to 50 decibels. One other change regarded setbacks. Previous regulations for setbacks required a wind turbine to be at least one and one-tenth (1.1) times the height of the total system from any property line of non-participating property owners.
At a meeting on Thursday, January 6, the committee voted to change the setback to three times the height of the total system from any occupied primary residence of a non-participating property owner, measured from an exterior wall of the occupied primary residence.
A hearing was held on February 10, 2022, again to give the public the opportunity for input. However, after the hearing was closed and the public was no longer able to speak, the committee voted to change the setbacks to five times the height of the structure, which is estimated to be more than half a mile, depending on the height of the turbine.
Representatives of NextEra, the company that operates the Steele Flats Wind Farm, also spoke at the hearing. Dr. Chris Ollson said, “When you go hand-in-hand on trying to create regulations, it’s really setting a sound limit that’s appropriate which you have it the 50 decibels and then marrying up to that what the level would be or the setback distance, three times setback distance would align you with that 50 decibels that would go hand in hand and, certainly, anything beyond that doesn’t afford any greater protection for public health or safety to your residents.”
One of the first members of the public to speak was David Henrichs, who described himself as a participating landowner, “I would encourage the board not to put too restrictive setbacks on the windmills.”
“In the nine years since I’ve been in the project and I’ve had the windmills running around our house, we occasionally have people come driving up the road, they slow down, eventually,” Henrichs said.
“And they’ll come in and if they see you in the yard. They’ll start asking you questions. We’ve had people from Shickley, from northeast Nebraska, all over Kansas. And their biggest question is, ‘You’re in the wind farm. How do you like them?’ I tried to be honest with them. There’s nothing for me to lie to them about it. Most of the time, I just invited him to come in, drive down the windmill road, drive out to the windmill, sit under it for however long you would like to and listen to it. I’ve had dozens of them come by and over the years, the overriding sentiment is, well, wow, they’re not nearly as noisy as everybody told us.”
Henrichs suggested a possible reason for the campaign against wind farms, “And I asked myself, what is it that would motivate somebody to lie to these people about how horribly dangerous they are, how horribly noisy they are? And I’m sorry to say it comes back to the to one thing. What’s the big motivator in this? Well, if you look at it, every windmill, every wind farm that goes in around the country is a few less loads of coal that Burlington Northern and Union Pacific are moving down those tracks. So you got some really big money behind this effort to keep wind farms from going in.”
Henrichs, “The biggest thing that you will do by increasing the setbacks is taking away the freedom of the landowners in this county, who wish to sign up, from doing so. Like they have in Gage County. In Gage County, they’ve taken that right away.”
One beneficiary of the tax revenue created by wind farms is schools. Henrichs said, \”I live in Diller-Odell School District. We are one of nine school districts rated a 10 out of 10 in the state of Nebraska. And we have one of the lowest mill levies. So if you have a child that goes to our school, they’re getting a class education. And the mill levy that we have is one of the lowest.”
Fairbury Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Grizzle did attend the meeting but left before it was over and did not speak.
The primary motivating factor for most participating landowners to have a wind turbine is the lease to the wind farm project.
Gary Dick, a landowner in Jefferson County, said, “We’ve been approached about, for NextEra, about constructing two wind towers. We’ve asked a lot of questions. It’s not an easy decision to make. But I would specifically like to address the setback requirements. I would recommend that you stay with the three times setback rather than the five. I’ve researched where our towers will presumably be located. The five times setback probably would not be a hindrance, but my concern would be that the project overall, it might be a deterrence to doing the project if you go with a five time setback.”
Dick said the additional income can be important to farmers, “I’m familiar with the wind tower project that was recently completed in Saline County. I’ve talked to some people there. I’ve talked to one farmer in particular, he’s a small dryland farmer. He says the impact from the income is significant to their operation. Partly because of real estate taxes, which concerns me. I would point out that Nebraska pays higher real estate taxes than any of the bordering states.”
Dick said, “I know one individual who sold land in Nebraska and purchased land in Kansas specifically because of that. So any outside income can provide a relief to the income tax burden.”
Another speaker agreed with this assessment, “Hi, my name is Gary Rosenthal. I’m a farmer from Jefferson County. And I’d just like to say that I think anytime we can expand our tax base to help with these taxes on these farms, and to help the school so that it’s a good thing. And I don’t think we should outlaw by regular wind turbines by regulation, like Gage County did, because there’s really no justification in it. And if we outlaw now, what are we going to do down the road when the federal government wants cheap, clean energy?”
A concern raised by a number of individuals is wind turbines located near national parks or other nature preserves.
Richard Sutton of Lincoln proposed, “I recommend that firms deploying wind turbines in Jefferson County be required to number one, identify and have corroborated by key observation points, which then depict the visual impacts of proposed wind turbines. Number two, submit view shed maps showing the areas from which proposed turbines will be visible when turbines should not be visible within Homestead National Historical Park, nor Rock Creek Station State Historical Park. Disallow any increase in the size of future wind turbines on sites now occupied by turbines until the first two of my recommendations have been satisfied.”
“I’m Anna Pullman. My family and I live and work and farm in Jefferson County,” said another speaker. She said that health effects from wind turbines include, “Severe sleep disturbances, depression, chronic stress, migraines, nausea, exhaustion, anger, cognitive difficulties, cardiac arrhythmias, panic attacks, and even suicidal ideation and behaviors”.
“I was absolutely shocked to learn that these can be the health effects of wind turbines on human health. These are well documented and we’ve proven we presented to you today. Why? Because wind turbines can, they do emit long and frequent periods of pulsating, low frequency noise, some of which we hear and some of which we can’t. What we can’t hear is called infrasound, which still resonates in the human body and affects the nervous system and can produce serious behavioral and physiological effects. It might not be noticed immediately, but it has a cumulative effect over time. I learned recently that infrasound is even been studied as a military weapon.”
Ellen Vorderstrasse, a Jefferson County landowner, said of a rancher in Colordao, “They have miniature horses, dairy cows and they breed dogs. The turbines have caused deteriorating health effects to themselves and their animals, including nausea, loss of sleep, dizziness, lethargy, high blood pressure and severe headaches. The symptoms began when the wind farm became operational. They have spent thousands of dollars on vet bills to care for issues with the animals. Milk production has dropped. Ducks have gone blind. Cows refuse to feed. Donkeys have pituitary gland issues. There are deformities in newborn animals and dogs developing mastitis and deteriorating health and stillborn births.”
Vorderstrasse said of a chicken farmer in Wisconsin, “Had major problems with his chickens since the startup of the nearby wind facility, including deaths and numerous birth defects. The birth defects include missing eyes, eyes sticking out of their heads, twisted beaks, deformed heads and malformed legs.”
Vorderstrasse claimed, “There are reports of massive death among bats that suffered lung hemorrhage when flying near wind turbines. Bees, owls, eagles and raptors are suffering massive die-offs due to wind turbines. This has been well documented all over the world. Many goats in Taiwan have reportedly died due to stress induced conditions within two kilometers of turbines, verified by the Taiwanese Department of Agriculture. In Denmark, 1,600 baby mink were born premature at a large mink farm. Many had deformities and most were dead upon arrival with a lack of eyeballs the most common deformity.”
Vorderstrasse did not explain how wind turbines cause these deformities.
Bruce Weise, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Committee, said of a meeting held on February 10, “During the hearing the only negative comments were for consideration of flicker on horses and it was noted cattle graze directly around the towers of Steele Flats.”
Mike Hotlmeier asked, “We set noise levels. We set flicker ratings. What happens in the case of a scenario, and I believe these guys do the best they can, but what happens when these are not met? You know, do we call the state patrol? Do we call the sheriff? Do we call the county attorney? Do we have to get legal representation? Do those things get decommissioned? Do they get fined? Is there a penalty? How much time do they have to rectify the situation?”
This issue was discussed at a previous Planning and Zoning Committee hearing. Every wind farm must obtain a Special Use Permit from the county. According to the county commissioners, if the regulations are not met, the county has the option of revoking the permit. When asked by FJN if he would vote to withdraw a special use permit for a wind farm if the turbines do not follow noise regulations, or any other county regulations, Commissioner Michael Dux responded, “More than likely, yes.”
Dux pointed to examples where the county has done just that, such as grain bins or storage tanks, that didn’t follow regulations and had to be torn down or relocated, though none of these involved the same sort of expense as a wind turbine.
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