OMAHA, Neb.- Nebraska ranks as high as third for wind-energy potential, but it lags compared to its surrounding states in wind-energy output.
There’s a seemingly increasing divide in the state on the pros and cons of wind energy. Some think adding wind turbines is a clean renewable energy source, while others say it's an eyesore that is actually bad for the environment.
Currently, Nebraska has 744 wind turbines producing electricity but according to the American Wind Energy Association, the state trails neighboring states. Colorado has almost 2,000 wind turbines, and Iowa has almost 4,000.
But the tide is changing for Nebraska; the state recently has had a surge in wind-turbine development.
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“The policies that your legislature put in place the last couple years have really created an environment for more wind development,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.
One of those policies is a bill passed in 2016 from Sen. John McCollister easing restrictions on wind developers.
“Having the resources here makes that possible and you see all the development occurring in the state now," McCollister said. "It's going to be a big change and of course it helps the landowners, it helps reduce property taxes so there's a big economic incentive."
But there’s strong opposition in the Sandhills.
“Wind turbines should not be in the Sandills,” said Tracy Bradley, who owns land in the area.
In October, a group held a meeting with U.S. Fish and Wildlife on the proposed NPPD "R-Project" which would include a 225-mile transmission line from a station near Sutherland to a new substation just east of Thedford that would connect to the 14-state southwest power pool NPPD is part of.
While these landowners fear NPPD is doing this to spur on more wind energy development, NPPD denies that’s the reason.
“Trying to build something the size and scope of what they are doing here just doesn't make any sense,” Sandhills landowner Craig Andresen said.
“Our utilities are responsible for building out that grid, and being able to be assured that when we turn on that switch that that power is going to get there,” said David Bracht, director of the Nebraska Energy Office.
“People don't come here to see high-voltage transmission lines and 600-foot towers. People come here for the open-unspoiled views,” Andresen said.
Other fears from the Sandhills landowners are what the transmission lines and potential wind turbines would do to the habitat.
“Grass population, we have bald eagles we have golden eagles they are coming across our meadows there's the burying beetle,” Bradley said.
Sen. Tom Brewer plans to introduce a bill next legislative session to place a two-year moratorium to block wind development in the Sandhills.
“There's a mad rush right now to build wind turbines in the Sandhills and common sense cannot put a corner-post line and not have put in a dead man to anchor it," Brewer said. "So why would you build a 5,60-foot tower in sand and not question the wisdom behind that?"
But some landowners like Michael Zakarzwski welcome the extra property tax relief for having a wind turbine on their property.
“It’s a great third leg of our rural economy out there besides livestock and crops, and so it was a great fit,” he said.
Wind-energy supporters also tout the economic benefits of wind energy; one example is the Facebook data center opening in Papillion, which recently announced it will be solely powered by wind energy.