Guest Opinion: Seeking a Balance on Wind Energy

By Mayor Josh Moenning, Norfolk, Nebraska.
Originally appearing in the Norfolk Daily News – Link.

Wind energy has been blowing across the local news lately. For some, wind towers and turbines are noisy eyesores they’d rather never see. For others, wind farms are an opportunity for additional farm income, new jobs, and new tax revenue. Local elected officials are left to make zoning and regulatory decisions.

It’s important, as we weigh all considerations, that a full discussion about wind is allowed and that each perspective is heard and respected since our region will continue to be highly sought after for development.

I’ve been interested in renewable energy development for a long time. I’ve watched as technologies have evolved to the point that renewable sources are now cost competitive with other energy sectors.

As a local elected official, I have an interest in reasonable economic growth opportunities throughout our corner of the state. The more jobs, the more tax base, and the more opportunities to keep and attract young people here, the better off we all are.

Wind power benefits are demonstrated in real numbers. Last year, nearly $4 million in landowner lease payments were made on the state’s turbines, a majority of which are in north-central and northeast Nebraska. These payments average $8,000 to $10,000 per turbine every year, with additional sums for roads and other equipment.

Wind energy means significant new tax revenue for counties: $1.4 million annually in Antelope County, almost $2 million in Holt County, and a projected $2.5 million in Dixon County. These dollars translate to much-needed property tax relief for farmers. In Knox County, the nearly $2.1 million additional property tax from wind resulted in an 11 percent reduction in property tax collected against farmers on ag land. 

Permanent jobs are created when the projects are in operation. Twenty-five new jobs were created in O’Neill, for example, and 15 new jobs in Allen.

Wind energy doesn’t draw from our water resources, and it doesn’t threaten to pollute water, air, or land. Industry standards limit noise at 45-50 decibels, which is the equivalent of room conversation. Industry setbacks, in conjunction with reasonable county zoning policies, set turbine placement at distances that must be followed to respect non-participating neighbors. None of this is new. People in neighboring states have been investing in wind energy in a big way for years.

I’m from a farm family. A key life lesson passed down from my father and grandfather was this: “Don’t waste anything. If it’s useful, use it.” This stewardship lesson easily applies to wind. With ever-advancing technologies, we can now produce a valuable commodity like energy as efficiently as we do food. To dismiss this opportunity out of hand is wasteful and short-sighted.

As I see it, the choice our counties face today is not wind energy or no wind energy. It’s how best to make use of a natural resource in a workable way for everyone. As Nebraskans, we’re typically pragmatic and neighborly. We’ve proven time and again — whether it’s manufacturing facilities, feedyards, acreage developments, or ethanol plants — that we can be both respectful of neighbors and open to reasonable growth opportunities as well as property owners’ rights to utilize the resources of their land. There’s a working balance to be found, and it’s elected officials’ responsibility to work fairly and thoughtfully to find it.

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The Honorable Josh Moenning is Mayor of Norfolk, Nebraska.

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