Sumner residents request five-mile setbacks for wind turbines
Credit: Brian Neben, Lexington Clipper-Herald | Dec. 16, 2022 | lexch.com ~~
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Sumner area residents asked for zoning setbacks of five miles or more in regards to a proposed wind farm during the Dawson County Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Landowners around the Sumner area have received a wind turbine and easement agreement from NextEra Energy Resources of Juno Beach, Florida, regarding a “Canaday Wind Energy Center” that would be located in the county.
“We are in the initial stages of assessing whether this community is compatible for a renewable energy project. This includes evaluating existing transmission infrastructure, landowner and county officials’ interest, as well as conducting environmental surveys,” said Sara Cassidy, a spokesperson for NextEra Energy Resources.
The Dawson County commissioners had voted unanimously at the end of November to place a one-year moratorium on accepting any wind farm applications after a roomful of Sumner area residents asked for the delay.
There was standing room only during the planning commission meeting due to the number of people who turned out to speak or listen.
During the public comment period, Melissa McTygue, a Sumner area resident, said she is “terrified” at the prospect of wind turbines in the area due to negative health effects she said she had seen reported by people living near them.
She noted the experience of a Custer County resident who said they deal with the noise from turbines all the time and it could be “unbearable.”
She asked the planning commission members to help “protect her home.”
Commission member Don Batie asked McTygue what she thought an appropriate setback for a turbine would be from a non-participating property. She said seven miles based on her research, but five miles is not a big request.
Cindy Burman, another Sumner area resident, said the effects of “wind turbine syndrome” scare her.
Wind turbine syndrome is the term for alleged adverse human health effects related to the proximity of wind turbines. Proponents claim that these effects can include congenital abnormalities, cancer and death, for which there is no scientific backing, according to the Associated Press.
Burman also asked for five-mile setbacks, saying this would put home and land owners back in control.
“Let this come back to the people,” she told the planning commission.
Luke Johnson, a pilot for Mid-States Aviation, said he would turn down aerial application jobs near wind turbines. He said he wouldn’t put himself or his pilots at risk.
When asked by the planning commission, Johnson said he wouldn’t fly within half a mile of the turbines.
He said allowing wind turbines in the area could be “a big mistake.”
Gene Coldwell, project manager with NextEra Energy Resources, spoke at the county planning commission meeting. He said the company standard is a minimum setback of 1,400 feet, and this Is based on studies the company has done.
He noted that while there is local opposition to the project, there also are landowners who have signed leases and are interested in the project. Coldwell said a setback of five miles would effectively zone out wind energy in the county.
When asked if the wind turbines would extend into Buffalo County, Coldwell said they would not. He said he could provide more concrete details about the scope of the project if the project progressed further.
Asked about non-participating landowners near a wind turbine, Coldwell said the company can’t make any demands on those landowners.
Regarding the sound produced by the turbines, Coldwell said the company hires experts to measure the sound and how a congregation of wind turbines affects a specific area. He noted the noise usually measures well under 50 decibels at the outside of a house.
Planning commissioners said they wanted specific verbiage to distinguish non-participating landowners who had turned down a lease from those who were not offered one.
Sumner area resident Ron Pierce said his property is two miles away from a property owner who signed a wind turbine list. He noted that a minority of landowners are making a decision that will affect around 390 people in the area by Pierce’s estimation.
He said the planning commission’s decision regarding zoning for turbines might be “one of the most consequential decisions” the board will make.
Pierce said he thought three-mile setbacks were too close and advocated for five miles.
Rob O’Neill said he farms in the Sumner area with his father and noted the importance of agriculture in Dawson County, as it ranks No. 4 in ag receipts in Nebraska. He said he would not want to see the wind turbines affect the productive ag economy.
O’Neill said he is building a home in the area and advocated for five-mile setbacks.
Randy Pierce, a Sumner area resident, asked the planning commission to create zoning regulations that would properly provide protection for livestock.
Other Sumner residents offered up evidence of infrasound allegedly produced by the wind turbines.
Infrasound describes sound waves with a frequency below the lower limit of human audibility. Hearing becomes gradually less sensitive as frequency decreases, so for humans to perceive infrasound, the sound pressure must be sufficiently high.
One resident described the wind turbines as “scenic pollution” and expressed concern for the effects they would have on wildlife, especially birds and eagles.
Several residents who spoke asked the planning commission to look into the subsidies and incentives the wind energy companies use to help build the wind farms. However, planning commission members said their decisions are not based on money or its sources.
Batie said “health, safety and welfare” are their top concerns, with economic development being one of the last things they consider.
Matt McTygue appeared and noted he had spoken in opposition to the wind turbine project at past meetings and fielded questions for the planning commission.
Curt Rickertsen, a commission member, asked McTygue: If the non-participating landowners won’t come to an agreement with the energy company and a five-mile setback functionally makes the project impossible, why not advocate for no wind turbines at all?
McTygue said there is precedent in the state for large setbacks. He said many of the people in the room were in the footprint of the wind farm but were not offered leases. He said he wants the energy company to contact everyone to make it fair for all involved.
Elissa and Patrick Martin also appeared. Elissa said the landowners who have signed the leases have that right, as it is their land. However, she said larger setbacks offer the opportunity for the energy company to work with non-participating landowners and include them in the process.
She said effective zoning regulations can help protect the health and welfare of residents.
One resident cited the 1965 Highway Beautification Act and how it helped to control outdoor signage and required junkyards to be removed or screened.
The resident quoted President Lyndon B. Johnson when he signed the act: “We have placed a wall of civilization between us and the beauty of our countryside. In our eagerness to expand and improve, we have relegated nature to a weekend role, banishing it from our daily lives. I think we are a poorer nation as a result. I do not choose to preside over the destiny of this country and to hide from view what God has gladly given.”
No action was taken after the meeting; Batie said the next meeting is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27, at the Dawson County Annex Building.
Batie said after the public hearings the commissioners plan to take a look at the zoning regulations, setbacks and the comprehensive plan. He said it will take several meetings to go through all of the material.
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