Logan County’s Planning Commission will be taking another look at its draft wind energy regulations.
Several changes were suggested during a loosely-structured and occasionally heated public hearing Tuesday evening.
Commission Chairman Dave Whitney opened the meeting by reading a statement, which he has submitted to the South Platte Sentinel and the Sterling Journal-Advocate as letters to the editor. In the statement, Whitney called for an indefinite moratorium on wind and solar projects in Logan County. He claimed that policies of the current federal administration are bullying the nation into a renewable energy situation.
“We will not be bullied or forced to do something that we have already been doing and doing well,” Whitney said. “We come to this decision from a position of strength and commitment.”
Whitney noted that Logan County has been embracing renewable energy for 20 years, but that the administration of Pres. Joe Biden is pushing an agenda to force a faster transition away from fossil fuels.
“Because of the ‘green deal,’ Biden is waging war on oil, shutting down pipelines, closing national oil leases, restricting oil financing,” Whitney said. “These actions result in out-of-control inflation and spiraling fuel costs creating a severe burden on our agriculture and oil industries.”
In fact, according to Gregory Nemet, professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Energy Institute, oil and gasoline prices have been under upward pressure for some time as the world emerges from the “lockdown” of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the Keystone XL pipeline, even if in operation today, would have no impact on domestic gasoline prices, Nemet said, because the gasoline would have been shipped overseas. The pipeline’s owner, TC Energy, has abandoned the project in the face of a drumbeat of environmental and Native American activism.
The energy exploration leases on federal lands were not shut down by the Biden administration for any “green agenda” reason. In fact, they were put on hold because a federal judge has blocked the government from weighing the cost of climate change in decisions on those leases – a policy followed by both the Obama and Trump administrations. The Interior Department has paused the leases until the legal questions can be sorted out, and fully intends to grant the leases as soon as that happens.
As far as restricting financing for oil and gas projects, Pres. Biden has restricted U.S. dollars from being lent for overseas fossil fuel projects. According to the Bloomberg Report, the U.S. Treasury policy bans any U.S. government financing of overseas coal projects that do not capture or only partially capture carbon emissions, allowing federal agencies to engage in coal generation only if the project demonstrates full emissions capture or is part of an accelerated phase-out. It exempts carbon-intensive projects if they are deemed to be needed for national security or geostrategic reasons, or they are crucial to deliver energy access to vulnerable areas.
Whitney asked if anyone had a comment on his statement. Commissioner Michael Bournia pushed back, saying it wasn’t the Planning Commission’s job to instruct the Logan County Commissioners on policy, but only to weigh whether applications for certain permits met the legal criteria set by the county.
“If we come up with regulations we can all be happy with, how are we being forced to do anything?” he said.
Members of the audience stepped up to the podium but when comments strayed from the issue at hand, Whitney restricted comments to the draft wind energy regulations, which were the whole reason for the public hearing in the first place.
Twelve people offered comments during the meeting, and while most supported the commission’s work on the draft regulations, the general feeling was that the audience were not excited about wind turbines. Some speakers offered suggestions of changes in technical requirements, which the commission will take under consideration before forwarding the regs to the Logan County Commissioners.
Some of the public comments became heated, especially when Brandon Smith, senior environmental specialist for NextEra, began to boast of the lack of environmental impact of wind turbines. Commissioner Bournia interrupted Smith to charge that energy companies get away with “killing bald eagles,” a crime for which ordinary citizens would be punished.
Smith demurred, saying NextEra does not intentionally kill birds, but that occasionally birds do fly into the blades, resulting in their death.
Bournia: “So you admit that you kill birds.”
Smith: “Well, no, it’s not that simple…”
Bournia: “It’s a yes or no question, do you kill birds or not?”
Smith: “It’s not a yes or no question. Sometimes, birds do …
Bournia (interrupting): “Okay, so obviously you’re not going to answer my question. Thank you.”
Asked after the meeting why he’d ambushed Smith with such an obviously loaded question, Bournia said he wanted to drive home his point that NextEra isn’t as transparent and honest as the company claims to be.
After two hours of public comment, no one else stepped forward, and Whitney declared the public hearing closed and the meeting adjourned. The commission will consider suggested changes to the regulations before forwarding the draft regs to the Logan County Commissioners.
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