SYRACUSE - Opponents to the Panama Wind Project proposed by NextEra Energy encouraged county planners Thursday as they reshape zoning regulations to constructively ban giant wind turbines.

Each of the speakers at a 45-minute public hearing thanked the planning commission for its work since the Otoe County Board ordered a one-year moratorium to consider changes in regulations. The county previously required windmill turbines to be 1,300 feet away from an existing home, but the new regulations would push the turbines back a mile from any property line where the turbine is not welcome.

Ann Boellstorff of the Otoe County Wind Forum said the county is moving in the right direction.


Boellstorff: “We are happy they are offering us the one-mile setback from a non-participating landowner’s property line, which we have asked for. That’s what we circulated the petition about and we’re happy with that recommendation.”

Planning Commissioner Chairman Dan Hodges said the county does not have legal authority to outright ban a legal business, but county planners accepted suggestions to ensure that wind developers pay for repairs to county roads, increase the designation of daylight hours for quieter wind operations and apply aviation painting while simultaneously making towers blend into the skyline.

Boellstorff: “We’re just asking for the better regulations  for the overall protection of our land, our well-being , our livelihoods and we want to feel comfortable in our homes.

Hodges appeared to resist a push, however, to use zoning permit fees as a way to discourage developers.

Members of the public questioned the planning commission about the $1,500 permit fee, suggesting that it should cost a wind developer at least $11,000.

Hodges insisted that permit fees should be based on the county’s actual costs.


Commission Member Chuck Cole said the fee is reasonable because the county will not do the inspections itself. He  offered to write regulations that would require wind developers to hire a certified professional that would report back to the county to ensure that construction details comply with technical specifications.

Cole said the addition of a requirement for a commissioning agent could be a significant expense  for energy companies.


Boellstorff: “I’m so proud of our community. We’ve worked actively with the Lancaster County residents cross the line on this project. We’ve had a lot of people come through. It’s been a lot of work and they’ve helped in immense ways. We are very proud of our group.”


The proposal is not expected to go before the county board until February.