Library from Nebraska
The Legislature appeared poised Monday to place a $75 million limit on enhanced state tax credits designed to promote development of new wind energy projects in Nebraska, but the ultimate fate of the bill remained in doubt.
But opponents questioned whether the state would see a direct benefit from such projects. Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus criticized the proposed use of transferable tax credits for wind farms. The transferable credits could be sold other companies at a discount, allowing the wind company to generate cash while the purchasing company lowers its tax liability. Schumacher submitted an amendment that would allow companies to sell their tax credits at only a maximum 3 percent discount.
The Platte County Board of Supervisors has yet to give its support to a wind farm project that is already underway south of Creston. On Tuesday, the board tabled a resolution of support and county road agreement with Bluestem Energy Solutions.
A group fighting the development of a 110-turbine wind farm was organized April 14 with 40 members. Early this week, the Bohemian Alps Wind Watchers counted more than 100 area landowners and residents who hope they can halt the Jubilee Wind Farm Project proposed by NEXTera Energy, LLC, before it gets a foothold, said John Stanner, one of the organizers.
Under these low wind speeds, a turbine creates sort of a “woosh.” And it seems like the wooshes will never end. “When the wind is in the west, we don’t hear it,” he said, referring to the turbine east of his farmstead. When the wind is blowing out of the east or south, “It’s almost like when you’ve got cars going by.”
A renewable energy tax credit bill has advanced out of a legislative committee and is on it's way to the floor for debate.
To further educate the audience, organizers brought in Randy Saathoff, a livestock farmer, who lives in Steele Flats, the NextEra wind turbine project in Johnson and Gage counties. Saathoff, who did not sign a contract, lives a half mile away from the closest one. Most of what Saathoff said to the audience painted wind turbines in a grim light. He said the power is shut off without warning, sometimes for three hours, and NextEra maintenance employees do not let property owners know in advance when they will be on their land. “They drove across the bean field and left trash everywhere. They come and go whenever they want on your property. ...They’ll tell you what they want you to hear to get you to sign,” he said.
“There was an environmental expert at the meeting. We work closely with fish and wildlife, and game and parks,” Sullivan said. Bostelman said he asked about the environmental impact concerning eagles and was told by one NextEra representative, the setback was three to four miles, but another one told him it was 500 feet.
Stephanie Hamel, who lives near Rosemont and would have a turbine tower within 1,500 feet of her home, said she is getting nothing from NextEra but will live with the impacts of its project for the next 30 years or more. “I ask you to put yourself in my situation and ask yourself honestly what you would do,” Hamel said, addressing the commissioners. “Lonnie said he wouldn’t want to live in the project area. Would you guys?”
Setback requirements, shadow flicker, ice thaw and health issues were all concerns raised during the first in a series of meetings concerning wind farm regulations.
"It's going through the Sandhills and crossing several rivers that have a tremendous amount of fish and wildlife resources," said Bob Harms, a Wildlife Service biologist based in Grand Island. "It's unfragmented grasslands. It's a huge resource for migratory birds and threatened and endangered species." Some of the highest populations of the endangered American burying beetle in the U.S. are found along the route as well, he said.
Cindy Chapman said she’s seen property values in the area near the proposed wind farm fall in recent months and fears that devaluation could worsen should county zoning regulations fail to adequately protect nearby landowners. Larry Chapman said he’s concerned about turbines falling down and ice on their blades being thrown toward nearby properties.
Vavra said that landowners should be prepared for disagreements among themselves and in fact, they should invite critics of proposed projects “to make you stay honest.” He highlighted the tactics of some developers, who engage in “cherry picking” to sign up a few landowners in the effort to block competitors.
NEXTera Energy Resources’ director of development, Lisa Sullivan, took the board through a whirlwind presentation of the Jubilee Project, a proposed wind turbine farm that would occupy a 33,000 acre area, potentially stretching from the Bruno and Brainard areas east into Saunders County. About two-thirds of the area is in Butler County.
Planning and Zoning officials from Gage and Lancaster counties will be working together as they reexamine each county’s regulations for wind farms.
A proposed wind farm that would cover a portion of northern Gage County prompted the County Board of Supervisors to review setback requirements during Wednesday’s meeting. Volkswind USA announced plans in September for a wind farm that would be primarily in Lancaster County, though it would also occupy around 4,000 acres in Gage County.
Ciardi said the weather service has similar agreements with two wind farms in Kansas and one in New York, but none of those wind farms have raised as much concern as the one proposed for Nebraska. For the most part, wind farms are a nuisance to forecasters, but Cottonwood would be the first time in Tornado Alley that a wind farm would be built so close to a radar station, Ciardi said.
Jeffrey Wagner, president of Volkswind USA, said his company pulled the application at the request of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department. "They thought it would be better to have some more public engagement," Wagner said.
Nearly 100 people, mostly residents of the Cortland, Hallam and Martell areas, packed a wind forum Tuesday night that could have been called Wind Energy 101. ...The audience also heard from Edward Walsh, an auditory neurobiologist from the Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha. “As a biologist, there is a biological basis for concern. In the case of wind turbines, it’s what you can’t hear that’s significant,” Walsh said, adding that most of the sounds produced by spinning wind turbines are in the low-frequency range.
State senators announced Friday that they will introduce five bills intended to advance Nebraska's renewable energy industry, increase economic development and provide property tax benefits.