Wind test towers could be headed for Sandhills

Bluestem Sandhills, LLC is hoping to erect towers such as this one from NRG Systems in various locations in Cherry County. If approved, the towers would help the company determine locations for wind development.

Developers are hoping to tap into the wind energy potential in Cherry County.

Bluestem Sandhills, LLC, a wind energy development company with offices in Valentine and Omaha, wants to put up meteorlogical monitoring towers in four Sandhills locations, but will have to wait for approval from the Cherry County Board of Commissioners to do so.

"The plan went through the planning commission last week, and the commission voted six to zero for it," Jim Edwards, zoning administrator, said. "Five towers were planned initially, but one is being held back until they decide where to put it."

If approved, two towers would be placed north of Whitman on the Pullman Ranch, which is owned by the Lincoln-based Lone Creek Cattle Company.

Edwards said the plan is to install another one along U.S. Highway 20 west of Kilgore on the Rothleutner Ranch. The final tower would be placed on state land about 20 miles north of Thedford along U.S. Highway 83.

According to Edwards, the 60-meter towers are not turbines, but rather tools used to gather data about wind speeds and directions at multiple heights. Towers historically go up several years in advance of turbines.

"The information collected by them will be used to determine if there is enough wind to sustain a turbine," Edwards said. "These towers are temporary. Developers would have to go through another permit process to put up a turbine."

Eric Johnson, partner with Bluestem Sandhills, LLC, said the company has been working with the non-profit Cherry County Wind Energy Association and with privately owned Cherry County Wind, LLC. Both organizations are made up of landowners in the county interested in wind development.

"We're a long ways from developing a wind farm," Johnson said. "The length of time towers stay up depends on the developer. They can be left up for six months or five years. The standard is two years prior to building a farm, but that's somewhat changing in the industry."

Although it's not guaranteed that turbines will be erected in Cherry County, Johnson believes the area would be a good place for them. Johnson was raised in Cody, so he is familiar with the area.

"From the technical standpoint, Cherry County is a wide landscape with very few populated areas and is a quality wind resource location," Johnson said. "Personally, rural economic development is an ongoing issue, and wind development has the possibility to greatly impact the area I am from and my family."

A public hearing about the towers is scheduled for Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. at the courthouse in Valentine.

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