A bill would temporarily suspend development of wind energy in counties in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon told a legislative committee on Wednesday that disputes about wind energy development in the Sandhills are "tearing communities apart," dividing neighbors and families and even spawning death threats.

Brewer is proposing a two-year halt to commercial wind energy development in the seven Sandhills legislative districts pending a study of the issue.

"Hit the pause button," Brewer urged the Legislature's Natural Resources Committee in presenting a bill (LB504) to impose what he described as "a temporary moratorium on new projects" in Sandhills counties. 

A couple dozen supporters lined up to urge approval of the bill, pointing to the beauty and fragility of the Sandhills along with the need to protect its underground Ogallala Aquifer, while wind energy developers argued the proposal would put an end to development just as federal subsidies are phasing out.

Tom Budler, president of BHE Wind, said enactment of the bill would "send a message that Nebraska is not open to wind development (and) encourage us to invest in other states."

BHE is developing Nebraska's largest wind energy project in Holt County to supply low-cost power to Omaha Public Power District.

Brewer's proposal would "definitely hamper OPPD's efforts to deliver low-cost energy" to its customers, Butler said.

BHE Renewables is a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary.

The bill was endorsed by representatives of the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy and sparked testimony from a parade of supporters who journeyed to Lincoln from the Sandhills for the morning hearing.

"Unique buffalo trails are still visible," Craig Andresen of Wood Lake said.

The largest fresh-water aquifer in the world is "not a place for mechanical industry," he said.

"How could this land ever be replaced?"

Pipelines also ought to be banned from Sandhills land, the committee was told.

Brewer urged the committee to recognize that "the deepest pockets are the loudest voices" in urging wind energy development.

His bill is not about green energy or the environment or private property rights, he said.

"This is something to heal the community," Brewer said. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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