County leaders to consider requests from energy firm to install devices that measure viability of wind energy projects
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
Douglas County leaders are set to consider five requests from Florida-based energy firm NextEra to install devices that measure the viability of wind energy projects on properties in the southwest part of the county.
The five temporary business use requests are on the agenda for the Douglas County Commission’s Wednesday meeting. As the Journal-World has previously reported, NextEra has been exploring the feasibility of building a large wind farm in southwest Douglas County since late 2021. The energy firm has had a presence at recent public meetings about renewable energy topics, such as a public meeting hosted by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office in mid-January about proposed regulations for wind farms in the county.
photo by: Douglas County
One permit request asks for permission to install a 60-meter meteorological evaluation tower on property owned by Jere M. McElhaney southeast of the intersection of North 400 Road and East 550 Road in Marion Township, generally just south of Lone Star Lake.
If it’s approved, this would be the second meteorological tower NextEra has approached the county about in the past few months. The commission approved a request from NextEra to install one of these towers on another property to the west of McElhaney’s in late November.
The other four requests ask for permission to install sonic detection and ranging — or SoDAR — units, devices used to remotely measure wind speed, direction and turbulence data on a specific site to gauge the viability of wind projects. Generally placed on a trailer and left in a field, SoDAR units emit a chirping or beeping sound and measure the returned signal.
photo by: Douglas County Zoning and Codes
NextEra is requesting permission to install the SoDAR units on four properties, three of which are south of U.S. Highway 56. One, owned by Clarice A. Breedlove, is between East 900 Road and East 1000 Road in Willow Springs Township south of Worden; the second, owned by Wayne and Gail Hopkins, is at 51 East 550 Road in Marion Township near the county’s southern border; and the third, owned by Marcus and Kami Wray, is northeast of the intersection of North 1 Road and East 150 Road in Marion Township in the far southwest corner of the county. The fourth property with a SoDAR application belongs to Charles and Doris Fawl and is southwest of the intersection of North 600 Road and East 450 Road in Marion Township, or generally just west of Lone Star Lake.
Memos from the county’s planning staff note that installing both types of devices is typically one of the first steps toward a wind energy project being developed. County commissioners and planning staff have repeatedly told the public that the county has yet to receive an application for a wind energy project, and that’s affirmed yet again in planners’ memos ahead of Wednesday’s commission meeting.
This wouldn’t be the first time NextEra has had a SoDAR unit permit request approved in Douglas County, though. According to an appendix of related applications from county planning staff, the commission approved a request to install a unit on property in Willow Springs Township back in 2018.
The memos also note that planning staff on Jan. 20 visited an operating SoDAR unit near Cuba in Republic County, where a NextEra wind farm was recently approved and is currently under construction.
NextEra is looking for similar permission now as it did in November — to have the devices remain in place for approximately five years. But county planning staff is recommending approval for a one-year period with the possibility of renewal for up to five years instead, a condition the commission set when approving the November request.
In other business, the commission will:
• During a work session, hear an update about a space reallocation study for the Douglas County Jail.
• Consider approving the county’s 2022 year-end transfers.
Douglas County ended 2022 with more than $5.6 million in its general fund balance above what was budgeted; the agenda item report included with this week’s agenda notes that the 2022 amount is larger than average due to unanticipated revenues — largely from sales tax revenues coming in “much better than planned for” — and underspending by county departments.
According to a spreadsheet listing 2022 transfers, county staff plans to transfer $5 million of that amount to the Capital Improvement Project fund and shift the remainder to the equipment reserve fund.
Wednesday’s work session will begin at 4 p.m., followed by the business meeting at 5:30 p.m. at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. The meeting will also be available by Zoom. For meeting information, visit the county’s website: dgcoks.org/commissionmeetings.