12 January 2017

Holt County Couple Speak on Turbine Facility

Author note: The names of the couple that spoke at the public meeting of the zoning board meeting are not given in this article to facilitate its publication. Primary in the decision to spread this story regarded the situation as expressed by the speakers at a public zoning board meeting at Valentine in early January that should be conveyed to so many others. Also, spoken comments were made at a public meeting, and are therefore public information as personally noted. Minutes of this meeting made by the secretary of the board, will, according to details heard at the most recent January meeting of the Cherry County Commissioners - be made available online. Comments made at a public venue are public information. As the author of this story, it has been a difficult conundrum. The overall decision was to share the information so that many more could realize what may occur when wind turbines are placed on a local landscape.

Grand Prairie Wind Turbine Facility

A couple dealing with a massive wind turbine facility in Holt county have experienced the process and results associated with the planning and subsequent operation of an industrial wind turbine facility in northern Nebraska.

Speaking to the Cherry County Planning and Zoning Board on January 3rd, they indicated how turbines at the Grande Prairie Wind Farm located northeast of O’Neill has “ruined” values which they once readily appreciated at their rural residence. The couple travelled to Valentine to share their experiences with zoning board members now considering changes to Cherry county zoning regulations pertaining to wind energy conversion systems.

The couple reside on property within one and 1/3 mile of the nearest turbine of the Grande Prairie facility that has 200 model 110 Vista turbines. About 60 of them are visible from the a corner of the property where the couple has lived for 20 years.

The extent and ongoing occurrence of noises from operational turbines was especially prominent in their comments. Noisy conditions occur regularly since the turbines became operational at the end of October, 2016.

Turbine noise is heard “every day,” said the mister.

"The noise is not constant as we always hear it but when we hear it it is a steady constant noise not rising or falling like the wind, therefore it is a very unnatural sound," the missus said. “On any given day there is a different sound.” On occasion the sound is similar to a shoe thumping in a dryer. They have found that the noise is worse when the turbine blades are rotating away from their home, and the back side of the turbine nacelle is closer. The sounds carry across the level landscape until it meets an obstruction, which in this case, is their home.

To document the extent of the noise, they rely on decibel meter to determine readings at various times. On occasion, levels were measured at 52-68 dBA within their house, and 68 to 82 dBA outside. Early in January, 2017, there was a reading of 50 dBA within their home. Noise from the operating turbines can readily exceed typical residential sounds such as a furnace running or television volume.

County regulations indicate that noise levels should not exceed 50 dBA.

“I miss the peace of the night,” the missus said. She used to be able to enjoy hearing the calls of resident owls, coyotes howling and otherwise appreciate their rural setting. Prominent sounds now can regularly be those of operating wind turbines. It is “very disturbing, and not natural,” she said. When the weather and wind direction changes, the extent of noise also varies.

“A neighbor three miles distance from the turbines can hear them,” the mister said.

Blinking red lights atop the many turbines are also notably obvious in the night skyscape, which was formerly nothing but stars.

The couple had initially been told by project developers that no turbine would be placed within five miles of their home. A map they provided at the Cherry county board meeting showed that the extent of turbine placement was much greater than originally proposed.

“Zoning regulations were not as strong as they should have been,” the mister said, noting that some members of the zoning board currently have an opinion that the project “should not have happened.” There was only one initial public meeting, they said.

Three primary concerns for the Holt county zoning board have been: 1) decibels of noise from the turbines at the site and nearby; 2) influence on land values; and, 3) the designated setback distance. There were also other items that the zoning board dealt with.

The gentleman from Holt county said the project has been “very disturbing to people that live near the site. It has split families and neighbors. It is a mess.”

There was some economic benefit to the community during the construction phase, he said. Any other economic benefits to the county are not yet apparent.

A prominent comment they made was that 80% of the owners of property where the turbines are placed do not live at the site, but instead reside in O’Neill or elsewhere. These owners receive thousands per month in payment for having a turbine on the property.

The Grande Prairie project was started in 2008. The county zoning board initially heard about the proposal in 2014, it was said. This project has been sold twice, and is currently owned and operated by Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

They mentioned Berkshire Hathaway Energy constructs wind turbine facilities due to tax breaks.

Warren Buffett has invested in wind energy for years, notably because of the federal government tax subsidies to generate wind power, according to press reports. "That’s the only reason to build them,” Buffett said. "They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

There is a proposal for an additional 25 turbines to be placed amidst the facility which comprises 54,000 acres. Some members of the planning board are hoping for a delay on any further placement of any more of the massive turbines.

The couple indicated they would welcome anyone wanting to visit and personally experience conditions associated with living near the operational turbines at one of the largest wind turbine facilities in Nebraska.

Cherry County Zoning

People present at this meeting included 8 of the 9 members of the zoning board, the zoning administrator and 12 guests with most of them indicating their name on a sign-in page. The wife of a newly elected county commissioner, once again, declined an opportunity to put her name on an attendee list.

No decisions were made to revise any zoning regulations during this meeting. Particular attention was given to the three items that the county commissioners indicated that the planning board members needed to consider. Several sources of information were discussed and then documentation was provided for individual members to consider for discussion at the February meeting of the Cherry county zoning board.

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