Gage County Board hears input on recommended wind energy regulation changes

BEATRICE – Point of measurement and distance of wind turbines from other uses seemed to be the main concerns expressed during a public hearing held by the Gage County Board, Wednesday night.

The county recently received recommended changes in regulations governing wind energy companies from the county planning commission. In what’s been a two-year process that includes a moratorium on wind energy permit applications, the changes have been sought by northern Gage County residents, who oppose a potential wind farm in their area.

Setback distance from non-participating property owners was a common topic, during the nearly two-hour hearing. Kristine Boone, of Pickrell said setback from wind turbines should be measured from a property line, not a home.

"If someone has property without a dwelling, it would be possible for a wind turbine to be placed on the property line or just over the property line...meaning that unless someone owns a mile of property, they can't even construct a dwelling that is a mile away from a wind turbine."

The current county planning recommendation is a one-mile setback from a residence. Representatives of one village in the county believe the distance should be greater from towns. Ross Trauernicht is Chairman of the Pickrell Village Board.
"One mile is not enough. One mile limits our growth. After one mile, our growth would be done. No more housing, no more developments, no more businesses. After one mile, we would be done.....done until after the windmills are done and gone."

Testimony to the board promoted a two, or perhaps three-mile setback from villages on wind turbines… well as setbacks from national and state parks, recreation areas and wildlife management areas. One person supported a three-mile setback from churches.

President of the Friends of the Homestead, Don Fernading, urged the county to also protect the Homestead National Historical Park’s viewshed from wind turbine placement.

"Homestead is meant to preserve and to be a place where everyone can see what it must have been like, to cross a vast and open prairie in the late 1800s. Today, that could be destroyed by tens and possibly hundreds of 500-foot wind turbines."

Darrell Holle of Jansen owns property that is within the viewshed of the Homestead National Historical Park.
"I might suggest that if that's an issue, possibly the electric transmission lines and the paved road also interfere with the the historic view of the park..and also the electric water wells. At the same time, you could also argue that windmills have been a part of the pioneer culture of the Homestead days. So, for whatever its worth, I felt like it was worth stating for consideration."

Larry Allder of Cortland, who sought the original one-mile setback provision now recommended by the planning commission, said he’d like to see a greater setback from villages and parks.

"I'd personally like to see three miles, however, with the one mile setback I feel Gage County is setting a precedence, here. I could not find any other counties with setbacks for their state, federal or local parks. I called the Game and Parks Commission and asked if our state recreation areas are considered parks. They are not. That leaves no protection for those state Rockford Lake, Big Indian. Also the wording doesn't include setbacks for wildlife management areas. I think they need protected, too. I think the wording in this paragraph needs to be changed to add the state recreation areas and the wildlife management areas, for the protection and the enjoyment of future use of these areas."

Gage County officials were also urged to adopt decibel limits for wind turbines of 40 decibels during the day, 37 at night, and a 20-decibel limit for low frequency, so-called infrasound. It was also suggested that provisions be included in county regulations to compensate for damage to roads from wind energy project construction and operation.

Gage County Supervisors gave no indication as to when the board will act on the recommended changes to wind energy regulations.