By the time the 29 residents of Linwood Township met Sept. 17 in the Abie Fire Hall, the tide of support for regulation of wind turbine development was clear.
The Linwood residents voted overwhelmingly to follow the trend.
Starting with the Sept. 8 meeting of Franklin Township, and then at the meetings of Savannah, Skull Creek, Oak Creek and Richardson, township residents overwhelmingly voted to approve regulations intended to keep the townships’ property and residents’ property safe.
Oak Creek had the largest turnout of registered voters, 118, at the Sept. 16 meeting in Brainard.
Two regulations have been passed: The first bans the placement of high voltage power lines under township property. The other requires a 1,640-foot setback between a turbine and township roads, as well as any private property not associated with the wind project. It also placed maximum noise limits for the turbines during overnight hours. The noise limits were to be based on pre-construction studies.
Wind developers present
Lisa Sullivan, project manager for NextEra Energy Resources, spoke for the wind farm developer, as did Omaha attorney David Levy.
NextEra is looking to build complex of up to 112 wind turbines across northern and eastern Butler County and western Saunders County. The company has acquired about a dozen easements on property so far.
Sullivan said that wind developers already have limited areas to place turbines because they cannot be built in close proximity to homes, irrigation pivots, airports, and telecommunication towers. Other limiting factors include the location of eagle nests and possible implications for other wildlife.
With the 1,640-foot setback in place “you will be limiting wind development in this area,” Sullivan said at the Skull Creek meeting in Bruno.
At five of the meetings, Levy made the argument that townships do not have the authority to enact zoning rules, under state law. Franklin Township’s attorney Jim Egr put forward the same opinion at the Sept. 8 meeting in David City.
The regulations were drawn up by the Bohemian Alps Wind Watchers, a group of concerned citizens that was organized when wind development plans became known last spring.
Lincoln attorney Greg Barton, who was advising four of townships as well as the Wind Watchers, countered Levy’s argument, stating that state law does not preclude townships from taking action regarding their property and access to roads. Both agreed that the issue wouldn’t be settled at the township level meetings.
At Oak Creek and Richardson township meetings, Vera Mathis, a land agent working with NextEra to obtain property leases, told the Oak Creek and Richardson voters that the setbacks under the NextEra contracts of 1,400 feet exceed those that are recommended by the turbine manufacturers. She also said that the contracts for landowners who work with NextEra include decommissioning plans and other safeguards for the landowner’s benefit.
Mathis also said landowners should also consider that the longterm benefit of the property taxes paid for the wind turbines is lowering taxes for all of the area’s taxpayers.
“Really you should come and review our contract and consider not voting for this law,” Mathis said.
At the meeting in Bruno on Sept. 15, Skull Creek resident Jim Rerucha urged his neighbors to consider that the wind turbines will be in place for decades.
“If these turbines come in, they are here (longterm),” he said, explaining that the tax revenue may come in, but farmers would not be able to use spray planes on their crops, and other activities such as hunting could be adversely affected.
“They’re here and there’s no changing that,” he said. “Once these wind farms come, you’re done.”
Loma area resident Jan Bostelman, who described her 35 years of experience as an engineer in the power industry, said the safety regulations need to be based on the worst case scenarios of turbine failures. She recommended that the townships approve the regulations,
In regard to setbacks of the turbine towers, Wind Watchers member John Stanner, who lives east of Brainard, said his research had indicated that the wind turbines, reaching more than 400 feet to the top of the blades, can throw ice chunks as far as 1,700 feet. The blades also have failed, throwing blade fragments. The township roads and the property of neighbors who are not associated with the wind farms need to be protected, he said.
If properties are included in the wind farm by choice of the owner, the setbacks would not apply.
“This is about safety, not about not having wind turbines,” Stanner said.
Aside from NextEra, the regulations in Franklin township also could affect Bluestem Energy, based in Omaha. The company proposes to build two turbines east of David City. Bluestem is developing the project under allowances made by the Nebraska Public Power District for a percentage of electricity to come from alternative or “green” sources.
Here are summaries of the regulations passed.
A ban on the placement of a high voltage (greater than 480 volts) power line under the town property, including town roads, right-of-ways, and ditches within the township.
Each turbine will be no less than 1,640 feet from any property line of an owner not associated with the project. Each turbine will be no less than 1,640 feet from any town road.
The regulations also limit the amount of noise a turbine can generate between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and lower limits for the period between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The limits would be set by a pre-construction noise study.
The turbines also must meet federal aviation requirements, including lighting and interference issues. Strobe lighting should be avoided if alternative lighting is allowed.
The distance between tower supports bases must be spaced a minimum of five rotor diameters distance figured by the size of the largest rotor.
Each tower must have a decommissioning plan to outline the means, procedures and cost of removing the turbines and all related supporting infrastructure and a bond or equivalent enforceable resource to guarantee removal and restoration within a year of decommissioning.