By: Sandy Benson
Area residents are optimistic and supportive of a proposed 100-megawatt wind farm in northwest Holt County.
The $160 million project would create about 120 jobs during construction and eight permanent full-time jobs. It also would generate more than $6.5 million in personal property taxes for local governments over the next 10 years.
Gerard Keating of Geneva, Ill., and his brother, Matt, of Kearney, were born and raised in Atkinson. They are eager to help improve the area’s economy.
The brothers have been working with Midwest Wind Energy of Chicago, which formed Holt County Wind, to develop, own and operate the project.
“Matt and I began investigating in 2004, when NPPD announced their wind farm south of Ainsworth,” said Gerard Keating in a telephone interview with the Daily News. “One of the monitoring stations for that study was installed near our family ranch north of Stuart. The results showed that the wind in that area was more than sufficient to support a project such as this.”
Studies showed that the 11,500-acre ranch could support 100 turbines, producing 200 megawatts of electricity. The proposed project would initially consist of 48 turbines, producing 100 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 40,000 households.
Keating said he would like to see this first phase completed by the end of 2008. The target date for the remainder of the turbines to be completed is the end of 2009.
“Earlier this week, we submitted a power purchase agreement to NPPD,” Gerard said. “We hope their board will approve it within the next 90 days. In our preliminary meetings, NPPD has been positive and encouraging. The bottom line is that this agreement allows them to buy power at the price they produce it for now, with no capital risk. It’s a win-win situation.”
The proposal states that the company has secured the necessary land, local permitting and turbines needed to complete the project.
If NPPD would reject the proposal, the project would not be dead.
Keating said there are other options available, but he declined to discuss them at this time.
“We’ve had an excellent reception from local officials – the school district would receive over $300,000 per year for the life of the project – it’s a huge windfall and an exciting project,” Keating said.
Atkinson West Holt School Superintendent Bill McAllister also is enthusiastic about the proposal.
“I think this would be a great benefit to both the school district and the local communities,” he said, “especially in light of the fact that we received no state aid money this year and could face losing state aid money in the future as well. These opportunities don’t come along frequently, so we are real supporters of the project.”
Don Hahlbeck, chairman of the Holt County Board of Commissioners, also favors the project.
“It will bring business to our restaurants and lodging establishments, and be a great economic boost for our area. The county is always looking for things like this to help,” he said.
Atkinson Mayor Sharon Wenner is optimistic about the project.
“It would be absolutely great if we could be a bit creative in the way we use our farm and ranch land, and bring more people to the area,” she said.
Wenner said she doesn’t yet know all the pros and cons of the project but is continuing to investigate. She said that almost everyone she has talked to about it has been supportive.
“I have only received one call against it – from someone in Butte,” she said.
“The thing that makes me the happiest,” Wenner said, “is that two young men born and raised here are looking to help the area.”
Gerard and Matt are the sons of John and Dolores Keating, who are lifelong Atkinson residents. Both men graduated from the University of Nebraska with degrees in agribusiness.
Keating said this project could be the beginning of something even greater.
“This project could be replicated many times over in the state,” Keating said. “There is a potential for 1,000 megawatts that could be produced just in the area between Norfolk and Ainsworth – representing a $2 billion investment – and the money is on the table now to do it.”