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Crony Capitalism threatens the rights of rural property owners

A home should be an owner’s castle and free from intruders, especially when that unwanted guest comes as a result of self-serving government interests. Crony capitalism in the Nebraska Legislature is threatening the health, security, and property rights of many Nebraskans. Policymakers must stop prioritizing these out-of-state wind developers at the expense of taxpayers and property owners.

Cindy Chapman is fighting to protect her family, home and her health from an unlikely intruder: a wind turbine.
 
Last year, Cindy discovered that Oregon-based Volkswind USA had submitted special permit applications to develop an 11,000 acre wind farm in southern Lancaster and northern Gage counties.[1] Two of the proposed 435 foot turbines would be located 1,000 feet from her home in rural Hallam.

Neighboring property owners quickly banded together to form “Stop Hallam Wind,” which now represents 130 affected Nebraskans. The group quickly discovered the promises of property tax relief do not make up for the health risks and property value loss of living in the shadows of a large wind farm.

“Each time the blade passes the tower, it makes a thump as air passes. This swish and thump becomes a rhythmic sound, like a faucet constantly dripping. It also changes the air pressure around the turbine and causes pressure in your ears. It would feel like living in an airplane that was taking off, with a constant strobe light coming in the windows from the shadows flickering. And you can imagine how many people would want to buy my house after that.”

On August 19, 2015, the Lincoln-Lancaster Planning Commission raised the noise limits beyond safety levels recommended by the County Health Department.[2] The Lancaster County Board will review the sound regulations this month. Stop Hallam Wind hopes the five county commissioners will prioritize the well-being and property rights of Nebraskans over out-of-state industrial wind developers. Property values near the proposed wind farm have fallen in recent months, and residents worries the project will chill economic development in the area.[3]

Cindy is not alone, as more Nebraskans are finding themselves in similar battles. Last September, the Nebraska Power Review Board approved a $140 million, 9,000 acre wind project south of Blue Hill. NextEra Energy Resources plans to build as many as 66 turbines in rural Webster County on the condition that it signs a power purchase agreement with a utility.[4]

Sara Macklin, who lives directly in the path of the proposed Cottonwood Wind Project, says the potential health effects, wind turbine noise annoyance, and property value loss are concerning to her family.

“Fifteen of those turbines are proposed within a mile of our home where we are raising our five young daughters. We made the decision to move here 10 years ago from Lincoln in order to raise our kids near family. We chose a serene spot on which to build a home and enjoy spectacular sunsets and peaceful surroundings. The thought of leaving our beloved home is heartbreaking but has become very real with the threat of such a poorly sited wind farm.”

NextEra has been unsuccessful in finding a market for the project, stalling development. Nebraska already has excess wind generation, and export opportunities outside the state are few. Wind is also difficult to integrate into the electrical grid, since power supply must constantly meet power demand for reliable, efficient delivery of electricity. Wind farms typically generate the majority of their electricity at night when demand is low. However, the technology to store wind power does not yet exist. Utilities must immediately use this excess energy or lose it completely, unlike traditional baseload powers that can produce energy at a constant rate. While wind generation can be a supplement, Nebraska’s utilities cannot rely on this power to meet the state’s total energy demands.

Wind is clearly not ready for primetime, yet its industry is lobbying certain Nebraska lawmakers to push for tax incentives and other special treatment. Last year, former Senator Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha championed LB 423 to provide $75 million in tax credits over ten years for wind farms.[5] The legislation lacked the votes to overcome a filibuster and failed to advance.[6] However, Volkswind USA is counting on these taxpayer dollars to finance the Hallam Wind Project.

Senator Ken Haar of Malcolm tried to speed up development of the Cottonwood Wind Farm by introducing LB 407. This bill would allow the project to immediately begin construction, despite not securing a power purchase agreement from a willing buyer. [7]  Sara Macklin and others affected by the wind farm testified in opposition during the bill’s legislative hearing. Ultimately, LB 407 failed to advance out of the Natural Resources Committee.

Both bills are likely to come up again next year.

A home should be an owner’s castle and free from intruders, especially when that unwanted guest comes as a result of self-serving government interests. Crony capitalism in the Nebraska Legislature is threatening the health, security, and property rights of many Nebraskans. Policymakers must stop prioritizing these out-of-state wind developers at the expense of taxpayers and property owners.

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[1] Laukaitis, Algis. “Developer plans 11,000-acre Nebraska wind farm.” Lincoln Journal Star, Sept. 29, 2014. http://journalstar.com/news/local/developer-plans--acre-nebraska-wind-farm/article_818e9d7f-48d4-5ab8-99da-46108304a4ed.html
[2] Bergin, Nicholas. “Wind turbine rules scaled back.” Lincoln Journal Star. Aug. 20, 2015. http://journalstar.com/news/local/wind-turbine-rules-scaled-back/article_50423ece-cda3-5348-abc0-e0a15598266c.html
[3] Abourezk, Kevin. “County working group to draft wind farm regulations.” Lincoln Journal Star, Feb. 25, 2015. http://journalstar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/county-working-group-to-draft-wind-farm-regulations/article_4554245d-89de-5bf3-a7c9-f089252e024b.html
[4] Hammel, Paul. “State energy board gives initial OK to $140M wind farm near Blue Hill, Nebraska.” Omaha World Herald, Sept. 13, 2014. http://www.omaha.com/money/state-energy-board-gives-initial-ok-to-m-wind-farm/article_7282de5d-19ea-5fd0-b2b6-2d0900f26424.html
[5] Legislative Bill 423. 104th Nebraska Legislature, first session. 2015. http://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/104/PDF/Intro/LB423.pdf
[6] Schulte, Grant. “Tax credits for Nebraska wind energy stalled by filibuster.” Associated Press, May 5, 2015. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/may/5/tax-credit-for-nebraska-wind-energy-stalled-by-fil/?page=all
[7] Legislative Bill 407. 104th Nebraska Legislature, first session. 2015. http://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/104/PDF/Intro/LB407.pdf


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SEP 2 2015
http://www.windaction.org/posts/43312-crony-capitalism-threatens-the-rights-of-rural-property-owners
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