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‘Go somewhere else’: Yutan residents grow frustrated with solar farm developers

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 10:51 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Not in my backyard — that’s what Yutan residents told representatives of Community Energy, an out-of-state developer hoping to build a solar farm in their town.

During a two-hour public meeting Wednesday night, developers Noah Eckert and Page Bolin described the utility farm’s 500-acre location would be located between County Road 7 on the west, the railroad tracks on the east, and between county roads J and L.

The farm would include 183,000 3x5 solar panels and produce 81 megawatts. It would also feed into the OPPD substation located at 120th Street and Military Road.

Solar energy is a cleaner source of power that an OPPD representative, also at the meeting, said would benefit all of the Southwest Power Pool. It would also help the company achieve its goal of offering customers resilient, reliable service.

Residents shared concerns though about the project for various reasons. One woman, Rebecca Ringer got emotional as she described how the community did not want the farm

“We stand up for each other and something that we don’t feel is good for this town, and I don’t know if you have other options, but if you do, go somewhere else... please,” Ringer said while getting choked up. The entire room of about 50 people erupting in support and began clapping.

Throughout the meeting, developers tried to explain how the project would work, and reminded residents it’s in a very early planning stage. They also promised to source local labor for as much of the construction as possible, explaining that they do that with all of their projects.

The Yutan solan farm would take about 12 months to construct and bring roughly 150 jobs. Then, full-time operation of the farm would require three employees.

The developers also explained that, unlike toxic cadmium solar panels, their solar panels would be crystal silicone, which has virtually no hazardous impact on the land.

Page Bolin, one of the developers reinforced also that the company would take measures to ensure the project doesn’t interrupt the natural ecosystem in the area.

“We are working on multiple environmental studies that are required to complete this project.” she said. But it wasn’t just about living organisms that upset some residents. The farm would be near a local cemetery and families made it clear this was a problem.

“Who’s gonna wanna bury their loved ones next to a solar field?!” shouted a woman, who shared concerns about what would happen if the cemetery needed to expand. She pointed out that the farm used to be locally owned and now current owners are already hard to work with.

Residents also said they were skeptical about what’ll happen to the agricultural land after this industrial project is over.

Solar panels have a life span of about 25 years and the developers described the farm as a ‘long term, temporary project.’

“We do restorative vegetation. We’re going to put in native grasses that have restorative properties to the soil that collect nitrogen and Co2 and put it back in the land,” said Bolin.

But again, residents said they’ve heard proses of being a good neighbor before. One concerned resident who also is a developer said he felt the team was cutting corners by getting a conditional use permit- which they believe doesn’t have as many checks and balances in Saunders County and also doesn’t require re-zoning.

“I’ve sat where you’re standing right now and tried to convince people of the same (expletive) you’re trying to convince me of,” said one resident.

Developers told families they have a bond in place which would protect the county financially if anything should fall through. The company also said they would restore and destroyed or impact roads to their previous condition or better, after construction.

Developers also said the project would bring roughly $385,000 dollars a year in tax revenue and that 2/3 of that money would go directly to the local school district.

Still, many questions were left unanswered about:

  • Property value impacts
  • Tax increases
  • Safety and codes
  • Insurance policies if there’s a natural disaster a piece of the solar farm break off a fly into a neighbor’s home or even into an animal.
  • A “plan B” location

Residents asked for another meeting before the developers make any permanent decisions. The developers said they would do their best to gather answers to all the questions and try to come back to the table to address everyone.

If the project goes through, construction would begin in Spring 2022.

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