Developer plans 11,000-acre Nebraska wind farm

Source: By ALGIS J. LAUKAITIS, Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2014 Map: Proposed Hallam wind project

An international company has applied for permits to build a wind farm with 54 turbines in southern Lancaster and northern Gage counties.

Volkswind USA Inc., through its Nebraska subsidiaries Hallam Wind LLC and Hallam Wind Two LLC, wants to build the wind farm on 7,000 acres of land in Lancaster County and 4,000 acres in Gage County, near Hallam and Cortland.

More than 50 landowners already have signed leases, according to documents filed with the Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Department.

Volkswind USA is a member of the Volkswind Group, which has built more than 60 wind farms, mostly in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Poland.

In Nebraska, the company plans to build 54 wind turbines capable of generating a total of 124 megawatts of electricity, enough to meet the energy demands of approximately 31,000 homes for a year. Forty-two would be in Lancaster County.

Each tubular tower would be 262 feet high, and each of the three blades would be 174 feet long.

Volkswind USA would like to begin construction later this year, but first it must get special use permits from the two counties. The project could start generating electricity next year.

President Jeffrey Wagner said Volkswind USA does not have a customer to buy the electricity yet but is submitting a proposal to Lincoln Electric System, which is looking to add up to 100 megawatts of wind energy.

In its bid to LES, Volkswind USA would propose to build either a 100-megawatt or 124-megawatt project, depending on energy needs, Wagner said.

“We are offering both sizes to LES to give them more flexibility,” he said.

A 100-megawatt project would require about a $150 million capital investment; a 124-megawatt project would need about a $190 million investment, Wagner said.

The proposed project would tie into the electrical grid where LES’ high-voltage transmission lines connect with Sheldon Station, a coal plant owned by the Nebraska Public Power District near Hallam, he said.

Wagner said the proposed wind project would be a big economic boon to the area, providing more than 200 jobs during the construction period, other full-time jobs once the project becomes operational and about $700,000 in total property tax benefits annually to both counties.

He said the company has conducted two years of wildlife survey work and plans to address any environmental and noise concerns.

Lancaster County planner Sara Hartzell said the company has applied for eight special use permits because the parcels of land it plans to lease are not contiguous. Some zoning language also must be changed to accommodate the project.

A public hearing before the Planning Commission is set for Oct. 29. Hartzell said the commission’s decision is final unless it is appealed to the Lancaster County Board.

The Gage County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the company’s permit application on Nov. 13.

Gage County planning and zoning administrator Nancy Niedfeldt said the zoning board will make a recommendation to be forwarded to the Gage County Board of Supervisors for final approval.

Wind development companies have been eyeing the Hallam area for several years. In 2010, a representative of Wind Capital Group, proposed building 30 wind turbines that would tie into Sheldon Station, but the project never materialized.

Hallam Village Clerk Vicky Polak said local officials heard about the scope of Volkswind USA’s plans at the village board’s Sept. 8 meeting.

“We really haven’t had time to review it,” she said.

Polack said Volkswind USA officials will brief the board at its Oct. 6 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

She said the closest turbine would be about a mile away from Hallam.