23 December 2011

Cherry County Group Facilitating Turbine Development

December 8, 2011. CCWEA working to facilitate turbine development into region. Grant Count News 127(18): 1, 4.

The recently established Cherry County Wind Energy Association is actively working to facilitate turbine facility development in the region.

A presentation - available online - as given by George Johnson at the Nebraska Wind Power 2011 Conference in Kearney on November 15-16, indicates this group was started in March 2010 after the Cherry County Commissioners asked several people to "develop policies to become the leading county in Nebraska for wind energy production."

The goals for the committee were to "encourage community based development that would maximize benefits for landowners, communities, and all residents of Cherry county by:

"Strengthening and broadening the tax base.
"Being mindful of our wildlife resources.
"Providing high quality employment
"Maintaining our quality of life.
"Growing our economy."

In July, 2011, the committee created the non-profit association to facilitate landowners being able to commit acres to the project, and to enact assessments to complete environmental studies and erect meteorological towers, according to Johnson's presentation.

The association would provide "collective bargaining power, local control of the project, increased cooperation on environmental studies and greater revenue potential for all involved," Johnson indicated.

A wind energy trust fund created would receive a nominal fee for each enrolled acre per year, with 50% going to the landowner if a turbine farm is established, 25% to the landsite, and 20% to other members. Five percent of all association revenues would go to the trust the following purposes, according to Johnson's presentation:

* "Funding infrastructure to support expansion of the workforce;
* "Educational and health care facilities;
* "Support and enhance the future economic well being of Cherry County; and
* "Help restore Cherry county after the life of the project."

Members of the Wind Advisory Committee are Johnson (chairman; operates a vinegary at Cody), Matt Coble (vice-chairman; in 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office assisted the Coble and Sons Ranch with a $14,725 grant through the Rural Energy for America Program to offset expenses for five Skystream wind turbines installed at the ranch in central Cherry County), Tom Cooper (treasurer), Adam Fischer (secretary), rancher Todd Adamson, Mike Burge, John Hansen (an employee of Turner Enterprises) and Gary Garvin.

Informational meetings for interested landowners were held November 21 at Valentine, and on the 22nd at Mullen.

Johnson, Coble and Adamson gave the presentation, Coble said. There "was strong interest in wind development," said Coble, noting that about 70 people attended at Valentine, and about 60-70 at Mullen.

The association hopes to have one million acres pledged for wind turbine development, though a lesser extent of acres is more likely, according to a group member. Cherry county spreads across about 3.8 million acres.

Thedford, Mullen and Hyannis are also within the rural region where economic development through wind turbine development "would be beneficial," Coble said.

"We are interested in economic development that will help sustain family farms and ranches," Adamson said.

The group hopes to receive membership enrollment forms back in December. A project manager would likely be hired in the future, Adamson noted in a phone call.

Transmission and Projects

Developing power from the wind within the county is dependent upon a sufficiently sized transmission line to distribute the generated electricity where the power could be used.

The Southwest Power Pool has proposed that a transmission line be built northward from Sutherland, and extend at least into the central sandhills. The Nebraska Public Power District has requested that the line be "moved into Cherry County," and then extend east to Hoskins in southwest Wayne County, and then south to Brownville, on the Missouri River.

Two turbines farms have already been proposed by Power Works Inc., for farm land near Valentine, according to information given on their website.

The "Galileo Wind Farm" would produce 105 megawatts, with the "Starry Night Wind Farm" rated at 47 megawatts. The number of turbines at each site is not indicated, but using turbines which generate three mw, there would be 35 at the Galileo site. The second site may use 1.6 mw turbines.

Ecological Considerations

A large portion of Cherry County has been classified as habitat sensitive to wind energy development, according to a map, updated on October 1, 2011, which shows an "an index of the sensitivity of wildlife habitats" as developed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. More than half of the eastern portion of the county is indicated with a higher ranking of "relative sensitivity." More than half of the western portion of the county is also ranked, but with a lesser index value, according to the map for the entire state as prepared by the state agency.

Areas with a lesser extent of "sensitivity," occur along the western two-thirds of the county north of the Niobrara River to the South Dakota boundary, the western edge of the county, and a section from north of Thedford to north of Mullen along the southern portion of the county.

Particular siting concerns include the occurrence of wetlands including lakes, rivers and creeks, presence of protected species and their habitats, and potential impacts to migratory birds and bats.

"Poorly-sited utility-scale wind turbines and cellular/television towers" are listed as "stresses affecting species and habitats," according to the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project, recently updated by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Conservation strategies to consider in this regard, according to the plan, are to:

* "select turbine sites that minimize fragmentation and impacts to native species
* "avoid placing wind turbines in native prairies or sites used or inhabited recently by threatened and endangered species" - the American Burying Beetle and Whooping Crane; other "sensitive species" can also be effected by large turbines
* "wind farms should not be located within the recommended radius of prairie grouse leks and nesting grounds"
Wind turbines can influence the occurrence of the Greater Prairie-Chicken up to 180 meters from a turbine, according to information given by another speaker at the Kearney conference.
* "turbines can be halted temporarily during peak migration periods for bats and birds
* "pre- and post-construction monitoring should be implemented."

Migratory birds are legally protected by the taking clause of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Any bird deaths caused by a wind turbine is a violation of the MBTA.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in Nebraska, based upon several recently developed wind turbine projects in Nebraska, has not enforced this clause. They have required that wind turbine developers provide funds to finance easements to protect habitat (especially grasslands), based upon a mathematical calculation based upon the habitat impacted in the immediate vicinity of each turbine.