COLUMBUS — A proposed road use and maintenance agreement between Platte County and a company constructing a wind farm turned into a discussion on whether the project is being completed in an upfront manner.
Matt Robinette, project manager for Omaha-based Bluestem Energy Solutions, met with the Platte County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to ask that the agreement be signed for the project that includes the addition of three wind turbines near 220th Avenue and 445th Street southwest of Creston. It is an expansion of the Creston Ridge Wind Farm, a four-turbine project completed in December 2015.
The county signed a similar contract for the wind farm's first phase to protect road quality during and after turbine construction. That agreement made Bluestem responsible for any damage to county roads during the construction process or when repairs may have to be made to the turbines.
The new contract would be put in place prior to the installation of turbines for the expansion project. The turbines are expected to arrive later this year or early next year, Robinette said.
County supervisors tabled action on the contract until their next meeting after Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth Lay said she hadn’t had time to look over the agreement.
But that didn’t stop board members from voicing their concerns about the project.
Supervisor Tom Martens spoke out about his displeasure with the process, which he has also done in the past.
He said the county board was not notified that the initial Creston Ridge Wind Farm or its expansion were going to happen until agreements were already signed with landowners.
“They are not being upfront with us. They’re getting this stuff done, in my mind, behind the scenes and then coming forward to the public in the area and us. I’m not happy about it,” Martens said.
Bluestem has an agreement with Loup Public Power District to provide wind power to the local utility. Under its agreement with Nebraska Public Power District, Loup is allowed to purchase up to 10 percent of its customers’ peak electricity demands from outside sources.
Martens also said hearings were not held to gather input from the public. But Robinette said there were two meetings, one in Humphrey and another in Creston, that allowed the public to voice their opinion and concerns about the expansion.
Martens rebutted, saying the agreement had already been signed with property owners and Loup to move forward with the expansion before those meetings were held.
“This (the meetings) should have been done prior to this project going on. It is not being done in the proper way. I feel we’re not being told the truth,” Martens said.
Robinette said the process for such a project starts with securing land lease agreements to do a resource assessment of the site and come up with a construction estimate.
“Once we have an idea of where we are going within their service territory, then that is when we have a public hearing, which is what we did with this project,” he said.
Feedback from the public meetings can have an impact on a project, Robinette said.
Martens, who attended the Creston meeting in February, said protests from such meetings wouldn’t stop projects from moving forward because agreements were already signed with landowners and Loup.
“They are not going to back out of that,” he said, adding that he thought the majority of people at the Creston meeting were against the project.
Bluestem doesn’t need approval or support from the county for the wind farm because Platte County doesn’t have zoning.
Supervisor Hollie Olk suggested zoning as an option in the future because she said the federal government is forcing power districts to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable resources.
“NPPD is under pressure to meet these federal guidelines and Loup is under the same pressure, as well,” she said, adding that she thinks it won’t stop at 10 percent.
“I think it will probably continue to be more and more and just slowly phasing it in. So if you’re not happy with how this process is going, you should seriously consider a specialized permit zoning,” Olk said.
Other board members said a way to prevent the project from moving forward would be to not approve the road use and maintenance agreement. The board is expected to consider the agreement at its Nov. 1 meeting.
In other business, the board:
• tabled a discussion and possible action on a feasibility study on merging Platte County dispatch with Merrick County.
• approved the purchase of two 2017 Caterpillar motor graders from Nebraska Machinery at a cost of $276,500 each.