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Volkswind project approved in Jefferson County
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Volkswind project approved in Jefferson County

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A second wind power project received a special use permit in Jefferson County on Tuesday, after the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved plans submitted by Volkswind USA.

The new 45-turbine wind farm will be located between Jansen and Harbine along Highway 136 in the eastern portion of Jefferson County.

All but six turbines are planned for the north side of the highway.

Volkswind USA president Jeff Wagner said the area is above average in wind power potential.

“In general, the wind resource at the project area is certainly commercially adequate and I would say above average, with respect to the general wind resource in the U.S.,” Wagner said. “It’s an excellent location.”

The proposed 99-megawatt wind farm has not yet found a buyer for its electricity, and no timeline for construction has been announced. Wagner said Volkswind is still deciding between turbine suppliers for the project.

The wind farm -- currently unnamed -- was originally planned as 43 turbines and seven alternative sites, Jefferson County zoning administrator John McKee said, but a state law regulating towers near airports helped shape the project into the current 45-tower plans.

“We had five towers of the 43 that fell into an area where they were too tall near a proposed runway for the Fairbury airport,” McKee said. “And even though it was a proposed runway, we had to move the sites.”

Volkswind also moved some towers in the project to respect the horizons visible from the Homestead National Monument of America.

Park Superintendent Mark Engler said it is part of the mission of the National Park Service, created after the Organic Act of 1916, to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein” of the 401 national parks in the system.

Development to the north of the Homestead, particularly the Pioneer Acres neighborhood and factories along West Hickory Road, occurred before the Homestead could secure easements for scenic views. In the 1980s, the Homestead purchased 4,200 acres of scenic easements to the south and west of the monument, Engler said.

“This goes back to our founding principles,” Engler said. “While we in Gage County may take the Homestead for granted because we live next to it, it is a special place and we want to protect its scenic views.”

In September, Volkswind measured views and elevations from four places at the monument -- the Heritage Center, the Freeman School, Daniel Freeman’s grave site and the end of the living wall near the Heritage Center -- and adjusted the locations of its wind towers accordingly.

Wagner said Volkswind wanted to be good neighbors with the project.

“We always have to consider the view shed impact in any location,” Wagner said. “The community has to be behind the project and in support of the project and be comfortable with the view shed aspects.”

“The Homestead monument is a key member of the community and so we take their concerns seriously.”

The Volkswind project is also expected to have a positive economic impact on the local area, Wagner said.

First, Nebraska law calls for a nameplate tax for wind power, meaning for every megawatt produced, a total of $3,500 is paid directly to the county. Wagner also expects landowners living within the project to prosper from leases paid for the turbine sites.

“It will be significant especially considering the small footprint and occupied land for the turbines,” Wagner said. “You can still farm around them or graze around them and use the access roads to them.”

Jefferson County board chairman Michael Dux said the county is pleased with the progress to date. Of the 15 people who attended Tuesday’s hearing, Dux said three spoke in favor and two spoke against the project.

“We’re pleased with what’s going on,” Dux said. “It certainly adds to the tax base of the county.”

Before construction begins, Volkswind will need to secure building permits from the county.

Earlier this year, NextEra Energy Resources obtained special use permits from both Jefferson and Gage counties. Work began to a 44-turbine wind farm this summer and was completed this fall.

Reach Chris Dunker at cdunker@beatricedailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisDunkerDS.

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