Three things seem to determine the fate of human endeavors in this technology-driven world: Products. Science. And politics.
The “products” folks are predictable. They have products to produce or deliver. And they want to get on with it, whether it’s oil through the Keystone XL pipeline, general electricity through the Nebraska Public Power District’s R-Project or wind-generated electricity from the additional “wind farms” some want to plant on fragile Sandhills rangeland.
In deciding whether or how they proceed, the question ought to be whether it’s humanly or scientifically wise to let them take the quickest, shortest or even cheapest path.
If that indeed were the question, Nebraskans would insist these three initiatives — all of which can be justified in this transitional era for U.S. and world energy supplies — be reasonably tweaked to avert irretrievable damage to the human, animal and plant environments they’ll affect.
Unfortunately for the Sandhills, we instead face this ridiculous notion (which we decried in a November 2017 editorial) of “conservative” energy and “liberal” energy. Partisan politics, in other words.
That’s our conclusion after the recent public hearing on state Sen. Tom Brewer’s Legislative Bill 373.
As introduced, it would restrict new wind projects starting in 2021 to those counties that have adopted relevant zoning regulations regarding at least setbacks, noise pollution and dismantling of worn-out turbines. (Amazingly, a handful of counties remain unzoned, even after the impetus offered by mega-hog farms some 20 years ago.)
Even before 2021, wind farms couldn’t be built closer than three miles to “any residential dwelling” without written permission. Wind-energy representatives who testified deemed that a moratorium, though it seems they have little conception of Sandhills distances.
But Sandhills residents inexplicably declined to play their best card. It’s basically the one they’ve played against the R-Project: Substantial parts of the Sandhills can ill handle temporary construction disruptions or long-term environmental strain from tall, heavy transmission towers or wind turbines.
One might think pro-wind agricultural and environmental groups would be sympathetic. Instead, they simply praised renewable energy and denounced all standing in its way.
The most revealing testimony, however, came from a rural opponent of Keystone XL — which, by the way, now would run well to the east of vulnerable Ogallala Aquifer regions because state senators rightly sought to balance energy and environmental needs in a special legislative session in 2011.
Keystone opponents, the foe complained, were ignored when they raised many of the same concerns voiced by Sandhills residents. But that was followed by an attack on LB 373 as part of “a years-long effort to kill sustainable energy.” Its backers were labeled as pawns (at best) of pipeline and oil-fracking interests.
Yup. Liberal energy and conservative energy. How tragically foolish.
We said in 2017 that, though we must keep developing renewable energy supplies, suitable Sandhills sites for today’s wind turbines will be difficult at best to find. But liberals seem quite capable of dismissing environmental issues raised by their favored type of energy.
Conservatives in these parts do recognize environmental risks. You can’t last generations in the Sandhills without protecting the land. But environmentalism isn’t their natural language — and the political party they typically favor usually prefers to avoid speaking it and attack those who use it.
Thus Sandhills residents face profound handicaps in resisting both wind farms and the R-Project, as seen in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s final environmental impact statement on the latter.
To put it mildly, the statement doesn’t take our neighbors’ concerns about the R-Project’s rangeland, avian and cultural impacts nearly seriously enough. NPPD’s plans have addressed these issues to some degree, but its leaders still should consider minor route changes to address (at a minimum) Fish and Wildlife’s findings about the impact on Lincoln County’s stretches of the Oregon, California and Mormon trails.
But it must be said that the previous federal administration — given its attitudes about Keystone XL — might have been more likely than the current one to heed Sandhills residents’ R-Project concerns.
The game seems nearly over regarding Keystone XL and the R-Project. But Nebraskans, in regard to the future placement of wind farms, still can learn to more consistently place human and environmental concerns before the needs of partisan donkeys or elephants.