PIERCE, NE — After months of meetings, forums and discussions, Pierce County officially has a policy on wind development in the books.
Commissioner Brad Albers says the Pierce County Commissioners voted 2-1 at their meeting on Monday to approve an amended version of the Planning Commission’s recommendations for wind regulations. Commissioner Marvin Elwood Jr. and Albers voted for the proposal while Commissioner Terry Wragge voted against it.
The regulations require that wind towers be set back at least 2,700 feet from the nearest house. Houses can be within the setback requirement if owners sign a waiver.
“I voted for (the regulations) because I think the property owners have the right to do what they want with their ground,” Albers said over the phone on Monday night. “We need regulations to protect those who don’t want windmills, but I feel 1/2 mile away is far enough.”
Wragge proposed a 3,500 ft. setback requirement at a previous meeting. Development Manager for Tradewind Energy Kate Valentine told NCN last month that a 3,500 ft. setback would be too strict for her company to pursue developing in the area. She said the 2,700 ft. requirement is as far as is feasible.
The Commissioners amended the Planning Commission’s proposal to include a stipulation that no wind towers could be placed within two miles of a state recreation area and raised the down payment for decommissioning costs from 10 percent to 20 percent.
The new regulations don’t mean a developer can start building anytime soon. A developer still has to acquire easements from property owners, pass through the Planning Commission and obtain a conditional use permit from the County Commissioners. Two companies have already started talking with some Pierce County landowners.
At all meetings, opponents have largely outnumbered supporters among public attendees. They argue that they don’t want to see or hear wind turbines in the countryside. Some are also skeptical that wind energy will remain viable in the future.
“I would hate to be the last county, Pierce County, to have commissioners put them in here and then two or three years down the road there’s another form of alternate energy and these things are going to standing there forever,” Pierce County resident Rick Sirek said.
Supporters of wind developments say they are a source of rural economic development and provide millions of dollars in tax revenue for schools.
According to the Antelope County Treasurer’s Office, the Prairie Breeze wind development generated $1,077,688 in tax revenue last year. Much of the money has gone to schools, with Elgin Public schools raking in $1,103,689.88 over three years.
The Commissioners’ decision comes nearly a year after the first public hearing on the matter.