Change on the horizon
What is the significance of that figure? It's the amount of property taxes the county will be able to collect from a recently announced wind farm being constructed in western Wayne County over the first 30 years of the project.
On July 13, the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) announced that, in accord to its commitment to increasing renewable generation, it would begin providing 40 percent of the retail electric sales via renewable energy sources thanks to the new wind energy project in Wayne County.
Named the Sholes Wind Energy Center given its proximity to the village of Sholes, the NextEra Energy Resources facility consists of up to 70 GE turbines which are expected to produce 160 megawatts.
OPPD has agreed to purchase 100 percent of the power generated at the Sholes wind farm over the next 20 years.
Construction on the facility is set to begin in the spring of 2019 and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, would be operational by December of 2019.
"Construction will begin approximately 10 months prior to commercial operations," said project manager Phil Clement. "Since we are planning to be operating in December 2019, we expect construction to begin in March 2019."
While Wayne County won't see the project's power, it will see the effect of the project in other ways. Considering the estimated number of construction jobs is 200 and there will be roughly 6-10 full time positions created to operate the facility, the ripple effect is in full force in Wayne County.
The Randolph School District will see a benefit from the towers, with a portion of those property taxes going toward their district. It is unknown at this time whether any of those turbines will fall into the Wayne School District.
"It's a great thing, to me, to have in the area," said Wes Blecke, City Administrator. "About 200 construction workers will be in the area and a number of them will stay in hotels in the area or campers and they have to eat and buy groceries. Permanent jobs come with that as well."
Blecke said with his previous position as Economic Development Director, he had seen the project in its beginning stages back in 2012-13.
After realizing it doesn't work for taxing purposes for Nebraska Publib Power District to own and operate their own wind farm, they had been ending contracts with landowners, except in the optimal areas, Blecke said. The Sholes project is one of those areas.
After a conversation with NPPD, Blecke met with the landowners to discuss possible options for the site, which included soliciting proposals from wind energy companies. Several responded, but between Blecke and the landowners, just one was selected: NextEra.
"I don't know what has happened really, from then until now. My involvement has been virtually nothing since 2015," Blecke said. "At that time, the project wasn't as large. It's doubled from the original estimated 80 megawatts."
Because the company doesn't have a final layout, Clements said, an exact number of acres isn't known, but NextEra estimates the facility will span 20,000 acres.
A facility this large is a concern for many, as has been voiced in numerous Wayne County Board of Commissioners meetings. Residents have brought concerns and questions to the board, many of which have been unanswered because of the lack of official information.
Concerns haven't fallen on deaf ears with the board or NextEra.
Commissioners have adopted a road-haul agreement, which states requirements of road usage, utility placement and even decommissioning at the end of the tower's life.
Clement addressed concerns such as the noise factor and even the shadow effect in people's homes.
"With the evolution of modern wind turbine technology, most of the time the mechanical noise from the turbine is virtually indistinguishable from the natural environment. Furthermore, we have experts take detailed sound measurements of project sites, using American National Standards Institute, Inc. (ANSI) methodology, and to conduct modeling of the sound emitted from wind turbines using the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standard for sound propagation."
Clement went on to explain that the flicker is an aesthetic issue, not a safety one, and that the company conducts flicker studies and designs their facility sites to minimize those effects on area homes.
"We operate more than 120 successful wind projects across the states. We wouldn't be able to continue to build projects if we didn't do it responsibly and in partnership with communities," Clement said.
Clement described NextEra's design process with area residents in mind.
"We work to site turbines responsibly, imposing a minimum 1,400-setback from homes so that the sound levels meet or exceed all industry best practices and equipment guidelines," said Clement.
Blecke said he feels that the facility is a boon to Wayne County, not only economically, but progressively with being conscious to our effect on the planet.
"Wind is what they call coal-competitive, meaning coal is still the cheapest but with the environmental factors coming into play, it's wind," Blecke said.
NextEra has a goal for the project and it's one that many would agree with.
"Our goal is to supply OPPD with low-cost, homegrown energy and to provide economical benefits to Wayne County such as landowner payments, tax benefits and jobs."
With no evidence of property valuations dropping, something County Assessor Dawn Duffy discussed with the board in a recent County Commissioners meeting and as much control as the county can have without zoning, this project and others like it still in the works in Wayne County are continuing on track for operations.
NextEra is committed to the communities it builds near, Clement said, and the company intends to support those communities. One of those ways is through the Nebraska Experience campaign for fourth graders to visit the capitol, which NextEra has partnered with Nebraska's First Lady Susanne Shore for.
"We are excited to be part of this community and will continue to support it for decades," said Clement.
NextEra, a Florida-based wholesale generator of electric power, boasts an approximate 19,990 megawatt generation capacity. The company owns facilities in 29 states and in Canada and together with its affiliates, is the largest generator of renewable wind and solar energy in the world.