PIERCE — Outside of a 15-minute presentation at the beginning of a public hearing on Thursday, Nov. 2, Pierce County Commissioners heard virtually no one from the public speak in support of allowing wind turbines in the county or the proposed amendments to Pierce County zoning regulations covering wind energy.
More than 100 people filled the Pierce County Courthouse courtroom for the hearing that lasted a little more than 90 minutes.
The commissioners had decided in October to move the hearing from the commissioners’ room to the courtroom in anticipation of a large crowd.
County Board Chairman Terry Wragge opened the hearing at 6 p.m. and explained the ground rules.
He said representatives, one each for those in support and those opposed, would be given 15 minutes to address the board. After that, individuals would be allowed three minutes to speak, and the hearing would be closed at 9 p.m.
Tradewind Energy Vice President of Development Brice Barton of Colby, Kans, spoke first, in favor of wind energy.
He used a power point presentation to provide information on the economics of wind energy that includes tax revenue, jobs, lower electricity costs and payments to landowners. He said wind is the cheapest source of electricity with or without government subsidies (production tax credits).
Barton listed some of what the company looks at when considering a wind project: robust fuel source (wind), number of homes in the area, interaction with FFA (airports), radar and weather, Department of Defense, environmental surveys (birds, eagles, etc.), county zoning setbacks, support in the county, landowner support and input.
He said it is around a four-year process to develop a project. Barton said zoning setbacks can really affect the number of turbines that can be placed. Pierce County is proposing a 2,700-foot setback from occupied dwellings. He said independent scientific studies have shown that sound and shadow flicker from wind turbines are harmless.
Vickie May of rural Lynch spoke for the opposition. She said she grew up in Pierce County and graduated from Pierce High School. May said she now lives by the largest operating wind turbine project in Nebraska, in northeast Holt County.
She said “It has turned our life upside down. We are 1 1/3 miles from the closest wind turbine and there are nights we consider going to a motel in town so we can sleep.” She said her husband was on county planning and zoning when the project was proposed in Holt County, so they are very familiar with the pressure that is put on one to do it for economic development and the good of the county.
May said the wind companies throw a lot of big numbers around. “Our project was touted to bring in $2.6 million in tax revenue. The last time we checked, the real numbers were down around $1.4 million.”
She said “You can’t just look at the dollars. We have given up our property rights. We were told by the project developer no turbines would be within four or five miles of us. Today, from our south corner, we look at 72 turbines.”
May said they tout that a wind turbine is about as loud as a dishwasher or refrigerator. She said you don’t sleep by your dishwasher or refrigerator.
May told the commissioners to do their due diligence, ask what kind of statistical sound tests they used, because there are different tests that can tilt the study in their favor.
May said what concerns her the most is that it is destroying their small rural community. There are neighbors that no longer talk to each other, and Pierce has always been the type of community that always banded together if someone needed help or there was a tragedy. She said this project will change that forever.
May said she knows it is hard to fund schools, to keep the roads up, but “you have to look beyond the dollars. It is your responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people that live in your community.”
May said in the Holt County project, 80% of the people with turbines on their land either live in town or out of state. She said, “Consider everyone’s rights. I believe in personal property rights. If you want to host a turbine that is your right, but I also believe you cannot take away the rights of someone else for that right.”
Nebraska State Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon said “The discussions you are having here, about the tearing apart of both counties and families, are the same as those being experienced in western Nebraska. It has become obvious something needs to be done. We are looking to expand LB504 state wide, not just for the Nebraska Sandhills.”
Brewer introduced LB504 in January 2017, in the Unicameral first session. LB504 would place a moratorium on industrial development of wind energy projects and asks for a task force study. Brewer told the commissioners to understand that, as they go forward, wind energy regulation in Nebraska is going to change.
He said, “I ask you to keep an eye on the legislation that is coming, and that this is not just an issue here, but across the state.”
Many of the individuals that spoke at the hearing discussed the negative health effects, loss of property rights and loss of the aesthetics of rural life with the noise, blinking red lights, etc.
The hearing was closed just after 7:30 p.m. and the meeting adjourned, with the commissioners taking no action on the proposed amendments.
The board had stated in the notice for the public hearing that no action would be taken that evening and the hearing was to gather public input.