Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon said his bill on wind energy regulation is not an anti-wind energy bill, as many opponents have said.
The bill (LB373) does not prevent wind energy development in the state, but rather it's about county governments that do not have zoning regulations in place, he told the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee during a hearing on the bill Thursday. It's about local control and property rights, he said.
The bill would require counties to have zoning regulations if they wish to host wind energy facilities, including preventing towers within 3 miles of a residence without the property owner's written permission. The regulations must also address noise and decommissioning.
The many opponents of the bill, a number of them representing wind energy developers, and counties outside of the Sandhills that already have zoning ordinances, said the bill would undermine local control and would give Nebraska an anti-wind development label, forcing companies to flee to Iowa, North Dakota and Kansas, where their investments would be safer.
David Cary, director of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department, said the agency is concerned about the loss of local zoning and regulatory control.
In December, Lancaster County took action to regulate wind energy projects based on local decision making and expertise from the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department and appropriate research on the topic, Cary said.
Some conservationists, like Chelsea Johnson of the Nebraska League of Conservation Voters, believe the bill would stall wind energy in the state.
Mike Degan represented Invenergy, which has been developing projects in Nebraska since 2010 and has poured millions of dollars in economic development into the state, he said.
"This bill, if it passes, it will halt development, period. There's just no question about that," Degan said. "Three miles is beyond the largest setback that we've seen anywhere else, and that would stop all development."
John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said his organization is at the forefront of taking advantage of renewable energy economic opportunities, so that family farmers and ranchers could increase their incomes, bring capital investment to struggling rural communities and reduce harmful emissions in the environment.
Three-mile setbacks, he said, have no basis in medical literature and there's no data to support adverse impacts on property values from wind turbines.
"Remember," he told the committee, "the overwhelming majority of people like the appearance of wind turbines. They think they are graceful and represent progress and a positive future."
With wind energy development, he said, there's at least $5.8 million of new annual income for Nebraska farmers and landowners, $9.4 million of new local tax revenues annually, 150 direct and 2,000 indirect jobs in rural Nebraska, and $2.5 billion of capital investment.
Many of those supporting the bill were from counties in and around the Nebraska Sandhills, who said a number of counties there have no real zoning regulations for the wind farms.
Terry Madson is from Nuckolls County and belongs to Preserve Rural Nebraska. His county in south-central Nebraska, he said, has no zoning, and some of those that do created zoning before anyone was thinking of wind turbines. Other county zoning may not have taken into consideration escalating tower heights, larger generators, more noise and shadow flicker because of size changes.
The bill gives those counties and others in the state the chance to get current, Madson said.
The wind companies are heavily subsidized, he said. In his county, a $3 million structure, comparable to a wind turbine, would pay $8,000 per tower in nameplate capacity tax. But if he had the same value of a steel building for an enterprise, he'd be paying $38,000-plus, he said.
Mike Adams is a Cherry County landowner and member with 47 investors in the Snake River Preservation Group that bought the Snake Falls Ranch, with Snake River Falls, one of the most beautiful, quiet and dark places in the continental United States.
"I just want to tell you that property rights start and end where the next guy's property starts and ends," Adams said. "I don't dispute anybody's right to put up a wind turbine as long as it doesn't detrimentally affect me or my shareholders."
But wind turbines could be built right now within easy view and earshot of Smith Falls, he said. That would decrease the property value and the money owners spent to enhance the ranch and falls, for them and for the state of Nebraska, he said.
The bill, he said, is a small step toward allowing all property owners to be heard.
Brewer was passionate in his closing remarks on the bill.
"I will tell you that there's a burning disgust in me with many of the big wind folks who spoke here today," he said. "They are this conglomeration of overpaid lawyers that get paid to come in and do what they just did."
People who are affected by the wind farms are working for a living and can't come to Lincoln to share their experience, he said. But to say that these wind towers have no effect on property values is ridiculous.
These developers are getting ready to scatter wind turbines all throughout the Sandhills, he said.
"And with each tower comes lots of concrete. And tearing apart those Sandhills to put in roads, and putting up towers that will be eyesores forever," he said.
And it's about to tear the Sandhills apart, Brewer said.