Nebraska working to catch up on wind energy

Source: By Chinh Doan, KETV • Posted: Monday, June 27, 2016

NELIGH, Neb. —After watching Iowa and other states harness the wind, Nebraska is working to catch up.

New incentives are helping to build the largest wind farm in the state, in which 200 turbines will turn over farmland in Holt County by the end of the year. Developers can’t wait, but some neighbors said it’s too much, too fast.

Wind turbines are changing the landscape in north-central Nebraska. The Grande Prairie Wind Farm near O’Neill will include 200 turbines when it’s completed later this year, making it Nebraska’s largest wind farm.

“I believe trying to live among them would be something very detrimental to our living and to our lifestyle here,” said Antelope County resident Cory Furstenau, who lives near the town of Neligh. He said he already sees and hears dozens of turbines from his yard.

“At the turbine itself, it’s 105 decibels, which is like a freight train coming through. As you get further and further out, the noise dissipates,” he said.

But developers said the turbines are part of Nebraska’s future. Until recently, the state’s public power system limited those willing to invest in the wind.

“We’ve just had the recent expansion of the production tax credit, and I think you’ll really continue to see wind grow in the state of Nebraska,” said Tom Budler, president of BHE Wind, which owns the Grande Prairie Wind Farm. He said when finished, it will power nearly 118,000 homes for Omaha Public Power District.

That’s one reason why OPPD moved to shut down its Fort Calhoun nuclear plant.

“Right now, we are about 17 percent renewable as a percentage of our retail production and consumption, and we see that with this wind farm (we will be) doubling our renewable percentage,” said Jon Hansen, vice president of OPPD energy production and marketing.

It also helps that wind energy is far cheaper to produce than nuclear power, and that the wind across the state never seems to stop.

“Nebraska has very strong wind potential,” said David Bracht, director of the Nebraska Energy Office. “It would be one of the top two or three states in the country.”

Nebraska Wind projects support up to 2,000 jobs, according to the American Wind Energy Association. For cash-strapped counties, the wind will bring revenue.

“We viewed it as a nice way to help take some of the burden off the taxes by having a project like this,” said Bill Tielke, a farmer who is on the Holt County Board of Supervisors.

But even the promise of lower taxes doesn’t reduce all the concerns of those who live near the wind farms. In Antelope County, developers will have to conduct a noise analysis and push the wind turbines further from the roads.

Furstenau will be watching, to see what the wind farms do to his county and his way of life.

“Sure, I’m all for economic development but we have to do it in a just and right fashion,” he said.

As part of the wind farm development, private industry is upgrading roads in Holt County.