Energy chat reveals color change may protect birds from wind turbines

Source: By Tracy Overstreet, Grand Island Independent • Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2014

Those dazzling white wind turbine blades that are often seen being trucked across Nebraska highways may be up for a color change.

“Less birds fly into black blades,” said Tim Frentz, the founder of the Helping Hands Network and co-owner of the Nebraska Green Fuels Co-op, both renewable energy organizations.

The comment came as representatives from the Center for Rural Affairs and Bold Nebraska met Tuesday night at the Chocolate Bar in downtown Grand Island with a handful of renewable energy enthusiasts.

“There’s no project too large or too small” to look into, said Bold Nebraska energy specialist Ben Gotschall.

From solar panels on individual homes to solar- and wind-powered dairy operations, solar irrigation and methane-fueled hog operations, Gotschall said a greener Nebraska is good for everyone.

But power companies often don’t pursue greener, renewable fuel sources unless power consumers ask them to do so, said Virginia Meyer of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons.

So Meyer and Gotschall came to Grand Island, and have other stops planned across Nebraska, to spark community conversations about energy sources Nebraskans would like to see more of.

Brian Whitecalf, a Grand Island City Council candidate, said his studies have told him that Nebraska is third in the nation for wind potential and 18th for solar capacity. Based on those numbers, he wondered why more isn’t being done on those new energy frontiers.

“I don’t see why we can’t put solar panels on top of every school,” Whitecalf said Tuesday night.

“Where do you even get solar panels and how do you know what panels are best?” asked Lori Fischer of Shelby.

Frentz shared data on solar panel vendors across Nebraska, while Gotschall outlined some fledgling solar and wind projects that have been done in Lincoln.

Wind power in Grand Island, though, may have other obstacles, Whitecalf said.

The blades on the wind turbines, he has heard, are harmful to migrating birds — and Grand Island and Central Nebraska are the main thoroughfare for sandhill cranes. That seems to make Grand Island and Hall County unlikely candidates for a local or regional wind farm, he said.

However, the latest studies have revealed that the color of wind turbine blades can be altered to be more “bird friendly,” Frentz said. That’s why black turbines are now being seen in Colorado and in other states, he said.

Fischer said she has been approached by a wind farm developer and likes the idea of supporting the renewable energy source. What’s she’s not sure about is how much of her own property rights she wants to give up to support the greener energy.

“I don’t think the sound (of the turbines) would bother me and I really enjoy the look — I think they’re beautiful,” she said.

But a land use contract she brought with her Tuesday night specified that she would have to consent to rigid setbacks and would have to give up rights on all her 60 acres of farmland, including the farmstead — meaning any of that land could be subject to wind turbine placement.

Fischer said she erroneously thought she could select the ground she was willing to have used for a windmill site, but instead the contract states that a wind study will be done and developers will use the land deemed most suitable for wind turbines — or potentially not use any land at all.

Those stipulations don’t seem positive for the landowner, Fischer said.

Todd Ruhter, chairman of the Hall County Democrats, praised Fischer for her “due diligence” on protecting her land and property rights, while still supporting renewable energy.

Just as with land used by migrating birds, Ruhter said, there may be some areas suitable for wind farm development and some areas not so suitable.

Meeting organizers shared contact information for other land rights organizations.

The group talked briefly about the Keystone XL pipeline and the landowner hearing set for Friday morning before the Nebraska Supreme Court, as well as about upgrades to Grand Island’s coal-fired power plant, the Platte Generating Station.

Besides supporting renewable energy efforts, the Center for Rural Affairs and Bold Nebraska also discussed support for energy efficiency to reduce demand for power.