The following is for Preserve the Sandhills Followers that wish to have their stories told and their opinions heard.
Please feel free to contact us if you would like us to post a personal excerpt.
the fear of eminent domain
NPPD has interest in the Nebraska Sandhills to build the R-Line Project. This project consists of a 345,000 volt transmission line crossing Nebraska for 225 miles. NPPD states that it "will help enhance operation of NPPD's electric transmission system, relieve congestion, and provide additional opportunities for development of renewable energy projects." Currently, NPPD has only obtained ? of the easements. If these easements are not obtained, NPPD has the right to pursue eminent domain. What does this mean to the landowner? The taking of your land, whether you like it or not.
a personal story
Author note: The names of the couple that spoke at the public meeting of the zoning board meeting are not given in this article to facilitate its publication. Primary in the decision to spread this story regarded the situation as expressed by the speakers at a public zoning board meeting at Valentine in early January that should be conveyed to so many others. Also, spoken comments were made at a public meeting, and are therefore public information as personally noted. Minutes of this meeting made by the secretary of the board, will, according to details heard at the most recent January meeting of the Cherry County Commissioners - be made available online. Comments made at a public venue are public information. As the author of this story, it has been a difficult conundrum. The overall decision was to share the information so that many more could realize what may occur when wind turbines are placed on a local landscape.
Grand Prairie Wind Turbine Facility
A couple dealing with a massive wind turbine facility in Holt county have experienced the process and results associated with the planning and subsequent operation of an industrial wind turbine facility in northern Nebraska.
Speaking to the Cherry County Planning and Zoning Board on January 3rd, they indicated how turbines at the Grande Prairie Wind Farm located northeast of O’Neill has “ruined” values which they once readily appreciated at their rural residence. The couple travelled to Valentine to share their experiences with zoning board members now considering changes to Cherry county zoning regulations pertaining to wind energy conversion systems.
The couple reside on property within one and 1/3 mile of the nearest turbine of the Grande Prairie facility that has 200 model 110 Vista turbines. About 60 of them are visible from the a corner of the property where the couple has lived for 20 years.
The extent and ongoing occurrence of noises from operational turbines was especially prominent in their comments. Noisy conditions occur regularly since the turbines became operational at the end of October, 2016.
Turbine noise is heard “every day,” said the mister.
"The noise is not constant as we always hear it but when we hear it it is a steady constant noise not rising or falling like the wind, therefore it is a very unnatural sound," the missus said. “On any given day there is a different sound.” On occasion the sound is similar to a shoe thumping in a dryer. They have found that the noise is worse when the turbine blades are rotating away from their home, and the back side of the turbine nacelle is closer. The sounds carry across the level landscape until it meets an obstruction, which in this case, is their home.
To document the extent of the noise, they rely on decibel meter to determine readings at various times. On occasion, levels were measured at 52-68 dBA within their house, and 68 to 82 dBA outside. Early in January, 2017, there was a reading of 50 dBA within their home. Noise from the operating turbines can readily exceed typical residential sounds such as a furnace running or television volume.
County regulations indicate that noise levels should not exceed 50 dBA.
“I miss the peace of the night,” the missus said. She used to be able to enjoy hearing the calls of resident owls, coyotes howling and otherwise appreciate their rural setting. Prominent sounds now can regularly be those of operating wind turbines. It is “very disturbing, and not natural,” she said. When the weather and wind direction changes, the extent of noise also varies.
“A neighbor three miles distance from the turbines can hear them,” the mister said.
Blinking red lights atop the many turbines are also notably obvious in the night skyscape, which was formerly nothing but stars.
The couple had initially been told by project developers that no turbine would be placed within five miles of their home. A map they provided at the Cherry county board meeting showed that the extent of turbine placement was much greater than originally proposed.
“Zoning regulations were not as strong as they should have been,” the mister said, noting that some members of the zoning board currently have an opinion that the project “should not have happened.” There was only one initial public meeting, they said.
Three primary concerns for the Holt county zoning board have been: 1) decibels of noise from the turbines at the site and nearby; 2) influence on land values; and, 3) the designated setback distance. There were also other items that the zoning board dealt with.
The gentleman from Holt county said the project has been “very disturbing to people that live near the site. It has split families and neighbors. It is a mess.”
There was some economic benefit to the community during the construction phase, he said. Any other economic benefits to the county are not yet apparent.
A prominent comment they made was that 80% of the owners of property where the turbines are placed do not live at the site, but instead reside in O’Neill or elsewhere. These owners receive thousands per month in payment for having a turbine on the property.
The Grande Prairie project was started in 2008. The county zoning board initially heard about the proposal in 2014, it was said. This project has been sold twice, and is currently owned and operated by Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
They mentioned Berkshire Hathaway Energy constructs wind turbine facilities due to tax breaks.
Warren Buffett has invested in wind energy for years, notably because of the federal government tax subsidies to generate wind power, according to press reports. "That’s the only reason to build them,” Buffett said. "They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”
There is a proposal for an additional 25 turbines to be placed amidst the facility which comprises 54,000 acres. Some members of the planning board are hoping for a delay on any further placement of any more of the massive turbines.
The couple indicated they would welcome anyone wanting to visit and personally experience conditions associated with living near the operational turbines at one of the largest wind turbine facilities in Nebraska.
Cherry County Zoning
People present at this meeting included 8 of the 9 members of the zoning board, the zoning administrator and 12 guests with most of them indicating their name on a sign-in page. The wife of a newly elected county commissioner, once again, declined an opportunity to put her name on an attendee list.
No decisions were made to revise any zoning regulations during this meeting. Particular attention was given to the three items that the county commissioners indicated that the planning board members needed to consider. Several sources of information were discussed and then documentation was provided for individual members to consider for discussion at the February meeting of the Cherry county zoning board.
Hearing Held on Moratorium on Turbines in the Sandhills
Written by: James E. Ducey
It was country boots versus city suits during the hearing on legislative bill 504 at the Nebraska state capitol on March 1st.
The natural resources committee held a hearing on a bill introduced by senator Tom Brewer, who represents the 43rd district. The legislation would establish a two-year moratorium on development of industrial wind turbines within the sandhills, and that a study of wind turbines impacts or influences occur during this period.
Senator Brewer opened the hearing. The primary reason for the moratorium would be to have a “time-out” to “give everyone a voice and a chance to be heard.” Turbine proposals, especially in Cherry county have been obviously contentious, resulting in families divided and friend and neighbor disagreements. Tax subsidies were also mentioned as developers are rushing to build before the end of federal tax subsidies in a few years. There is a need to balance the rights of wind companies with those of land owners and other interested parties, he said.
Proponents urging that the bill be moved out of the committee for consideration by the full legislature were primarily ranchland residents, with many having a personal stake in what will happen within the sandhills if turbine facilities and associated power lines get built.
There were Cherry county ranchers from the Goose Creek country and the Brownlee vicinity. Others also drove hundreds of miles from the Thedford area. A ranchwife from north of Burwell came to express her concern about turbines and the tactics of the Nebraska Public Power District associated with the construction of the proposed R-Project industrial power line. Other concerned citizens came from Valentine, Wood Lake and Taylor, as well as a former state senator from North Platte, from a ranch dating to 1878.
These many people took time out of their schedule – during the busy calving season – to drive many miles to Lincoln because of what they and many others appreciate about the Sand Hills. It is a common consensus that the region is cattle country, not wind turbine country. A common theme was that the sandhills are a unique place that deserves special protection.
There was a comment about the region being a “national natural wonder” and a “magical and amazing place.” Ann Manning-Warren, drove from the Goose creek country of southeast Cherry county. She said “there is no other place in the world quite like the sandhills.” Her ranch, like many others, represent generations of ranch families that have conserved the grassland range and other unique land features.
Fourth generation rancher Craig Miles said the positions on wind turbine facility development was the “difference between cowboys and paid suits.” His testimony conveyed a sense of place from prominent landmark, Hackberry Point, where the view towards the North Loup River, the wind among the grass and the sound of the wild birds can be enjoyed. The “wisdom behind LB 504 is taking the high road.”
Also present was a spokesman for the Lincoln-based Wachiska chapter of the National Audubon Society, a group that has for many years worked to conserve tracts of tall-grass prairie in southeast Nebraska. Bruce Kennedy has also been involved in getting the Niobrara River designated as a national scenic river.
The Nebraska Sierra Club spokesman George Cunningham said that though the group are proponents of “sustainable alternative energy systems” there is “no need for energy developments in native grasslands.” They should be on converted land.
The massive development of wind turbine facilities in Antelope county was indicated by Dean Smith, a farmer from near Brunswick. He indicated that 50% of the county has easements that allow wind turbine placement, with about one-half of that property owners being absentee landowners. There are already 220 industrial turbines within the county, with another 168 proposed. His three primary concerns are viewscape, timely collection of taxes and wind turbine syndrome. A tactic used by developers is that once there is one turbine, why not put in others, he said.
Developers are now intent on placing industrial development on land in the vicinity of ranches cared for by multiple generations of families. Within Cherry county, there is the Kilgore project and the newly identified Cascade project that would place 147 turbines on land along the Cherry county line, north of Thedford along Highway 83.
Opponents were most notably represented by lawyers and lobbyists for wind energy development companies. The men in suits were paid to talk.
They included someone from Berkshire-Hathaway Energy, or was it BSH Renewables, the current owner and operator of the Grande Prairie turbine facility in northern Holt county. This company is looking for additional opportunities to purchase wind turbine developments. The Sand Hills is one of their top three locales for future development, lawyer Alan Butler said.
Invenergy, the developer of turbine facilities in Boone and Antelope counties, had representative Joshua Framel proclaim that their projects “maximize benefits with minimal impacts.”
A lawyer from an Omaha law firm said the legislation is “unwarranted and will dangerously chill opportunities for wind development in Nebraska.” Mike Degan also said that there is an advantage to placing turbines in the sandhills because there is “less residential development so turbines could be placed in remote areas.”
Also speaking in opposition to LB 504 was Kathy Torpy of The Nature Conservancy. This group is pro-wind and wants more turbines in Nebraska, and she asked for “thoughtful and well done placement of turbines” with a request for meetings to be held within the sandhills on this issue. She also said that “ecologically sensitive areas” need to be protected and asked – for some reason not indicated – that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission lead the study.
The Center for Rural Affairs was also opposed to the legislative bill, since it was “focused on removal of local communities to regulate wind turbines.” Spokesman Lucas Nelsen also said that the boundary indicated with the legislative bill needs further consideration.
Bree DeNaeyer secretary of Cherry County Wind, L.L.C. also spoke, stating the need to “dispense with 504.” Her husband is a county commissioner operating a ranch on land owned by his mother, an enrolled member of the group. Her opinion was that the state legislation would conflict with local zoning regulations and impinge on private property rights. Rancher Dave Hamilton, also an enrolled member of Cherry County Wind, said wind turbines would mean economic development that would “ripple down main streets” and the bill was a “stall tactic.”
Bluestem Energy Solutions, an Omaha-based company, was well represented. They have plans – one which was rejected by the Cherry county commissioners – for a turbine facility south of Kilgore, and the Cascade project along Highway 83 at the Cherry county line, north of Thedford.
Testimony was also expressed by a wind coalition lobbyist that works to remove barriers to wind development wherever.
Other groups opposed to the bill were the Saline County Wind Association (comes down to the not in my backyard opinion), the Nebraska League of Conservation Voters (wind is a resource that needs to be taken advantage of, just like land and water), the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Nebraska Farmer’s Union (the bill is “heavy-handed” and anti-business, anti-property rights and anti-local control).
There were also two speakers with a neutral position. Ken Winston of Bold Alliance asked that amendments be added to the bill to address pipelines, injection wells and powerlines. A representative of the Nebraska Association of County Officials also spoke.
Everyone had a chance to present their representative testimony, with nearly every speaker limited to three minutes. Letters that had been sent in were also indicated.
Sen. Brewer indicated his view upon making comments at the end of the hearing. “This is an issue that effects many. Bring this legislation to the floor … to let the committee decide is ridiculous. Counties don’t know what will be right or what will be wrong.” He noted how some wind energy developers “put a gun to our head” as they said “give us wind or we will go elsewhere.” This threat was not acceptable to Sen. Brewer, who also said it was “wrong-headed and ridiculous to bring in turbines because there are already roads and railroad tracks.”
According to the clerk of the hearing committee, there were 23 people that testified in favor of the legislation, with 40 letters received that indicated the same view. Opponents were represented by 16 speakers, with 20 letters received.