Following concerns from rural residents when workers began digging to potentially build a wind turbine in the area, Gage County Planning and Zoning discussed the issue, and why a building permit hasn’t been applied for.
The wind turbine, a project of Bluestem Energy Solutions, would ultimately provide power to the city of Beatrice.
City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer previously said the project is still in the early stages and has a lot of procedures to go through before it becomes a reality, including a decision from the city if it even wants to proceed with the project to bring this form of renewable energy to Beatrice.
He explained that in 2016, a 100 percent federal tax credit is available to Bluestem for the project. That credit drops to 80 percent if work starts after 2016, so some preliminary work is being done at the proposed site to show that construction started this calendar year.
When digging began at the site, about 4 ½ miles east of Highway 77 and three miles north of Highway 136, near the intersection of South 41st and East Juniper roads, an outcry of opposition was raised by area residents who said they were unaware of the project and were left with more questions than answers.
The biggest question was why Bluestem hadn’t gotten a special use permit to start construction, as the county requires.
The Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission tackled this question during its monthly meeting Thursday evening.
The work at the site was described as a big hole with gravel filled in the bottom.
Lisa Wiegand Chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, declined to say one way or another if a permit was needed at the current stage of work, and said that decision would fall to the commission.
“It would be questionable in this case whether construction is actually started,” she said. “A determination for the county attorney, again because it is a large hole that has been dug, but it’s only groundwork, even though it’s also been filled with gravel now.
“It is essentially dirt work, and we allow dirt work to happen, to prep, as long as there’s no concrete footings that have been poured.”
If the city chooses to not follow through with the 2 megawatt turbine or is unable to reach an agreement with Bluestem to purchase the power, the city could cancel the deal at a cost of $25,000.
While it was stated work was to begin in 2016 to obtain higher tax credits, commission members we left wondering why Bluestem didn't get a building permit first, to prevent a waste of time and work if the permit isn’t approved down the line.
“Does anybody know why they would risk all this in the event that they could get turned down?” asked commission member Terry Acton. “If they knew they were going to do this, why didn’t they come before us months and months ago and get this thing so you have the horse in front of the cart, instead of now P’ing off the whole neighborhood.
“They’re going to come through that door flaming hot, and I don’t blame them.”
The Gage County Board of Supervisors discussed the issue during its Wednesday meeting, where County Attorney Roger Harris indicated the county isn’t pursuing a $150 fine for the company at this time.
Assuming plans are accepted for the turbine, it would be a 2-megawatt unit owned and operated by Bluestem and all energy produced would be sold to Beatrice at a fixed price for 25 years.
Ultimately, the city hopes to have three wind turbines generating power for Beatrice.
Initial plans only call for one because the city’s current contract with NPPD caps the amount of renewable energy available at 2 megawatts. When that contract ends, adding two more turbines would bring the total amount of energy generated to 6 megawatts. Tempelmeyer said this is roughly the lowest amount of energy Beatrice uses at one time.
Beatrice will gradually reduce the amount of energy purchased from NPPD as it purchases more from AEP, completing the transition when its NPPD contract expires in 2021.