Wind Project clears zoning hurdle

Custer County took one more step toward housing a wind farm Tuesday when the Custer County Board of Supervisors voted 5-1 to approved a Conditional Use Permit for construction to begin. Supervisor Richard Hodson cast the lone opposing vote. The permit applicant was Broken Bow Wind, LLC, a division of Midwest Wind Energy. “Anytime a company comes to town willing to invest $140 million on a project, I think it is a good thing provided that the community does its research and adopts regulations sufficient to address the issues and protect itself. Thankfully Custer County has done that and will begin reaping the benefits soon,” said Tom Swierczewski, Senior Project Developer, Midwest Energy, following Tuesday’s meeting. Broken Bow Wind is currently working with Broken Bow, Garfield and Berwyn townships for their approval as well. There were no objections voiced from the public during the meeting. There were comments though in favor. “We talk about economic development in this county all the time, but every time we talk about wanting to do something about it, nobody wants any change,” said land owner Dave Haumont, going on to say that the decision ultimately should be up to the land owners. When asked if the landowners were for the project, the response given was that there were a few issues to work out, but that they were very close. “I think you guys outta give approval on the project, then Tom and I are gonna go duke it out,” Haumont said. “I’m in favor of it.” The project meets or exceeds all county setbacks or will receive approval from adjoining landowners for reductions, noted Swierczewski. County regulations call for 1320 feet to houses, and the minimum setback within this project is 1400 feet. The county property line setback is 360 feet. Fifteen turbines require a reduction to this requirement, and waivers have been included in the land leases. Noise projected to nearby houses ranges from 34-49 decibels. 50 is the standard, said Swierczewski. Permits that have already been acquired include the US Army Corp of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the FFA. Final agreements with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission are anticipated to be completed by April. A decommissioning plan has been guaranteed to be in place. Midwest Wind Energy is a privately held windpower development company based in Chicago. They were the first private company to develop a project in Nebraska, the 80 megawatt Elkhorn Ridge project. The company has completed seven project totaling 649 megawatts in Illinois, Wisconsin and Nebraska. The company is the majority owner of Broken Bow Wind, LLC, and responsible for all project development work from concept to construction. Construction and operations will fall under Edison Mission Energy. Project History In 2008, Nebraska Public Power, with a vow to move toward renewable energy, began land acquisitions in Custer County and nine other sites throughout the state. The following spring the power company issued a request for proposals for an 80 megawatt windfarm at this location. In the summer of 2009, MidWest Energy was awarded the right to negotiate the contract, and one year later, MWE and NPPD entered into a contract for the generation of 80 Megawatts of energy for Broken Bow. The project has identified 119 sites for turbine locations northeast of Broken Bow, east of Gates Road and north of State Highway 70. Swierczewski said that the estimated height of the towers will be 80 meters (263 feet) with an 82.5 meter (271 feet) rotor diameter. Construction could begin as early as mid-July, with access roads to be completed this fall. Excavation and foundations for individual turbines will being spring 2012. The project is scheduled to be completed and on-line by Dec. 31, 2012. The project is being developed in two phases. Phase One will build approximately 50 turbines capable of generating 80 Megawatts of electricity. A construction schedule has not been developed for Phase Two, which would put an additional 80 megawatts on the grid. “This (project) would create a substantial economic boost to our county,” said Custer Economic Development Corporation President Liz Babcock. “We fully support this project.”