For nearly a decade, landowners in western Saline County have tried to bring energy developers into the county to build a wind farm. On Aug. 17, those plans finally came to fruition when Aksamit Energy Development broke ground on a 74-megawatt wind farm that will cover 21 square miles of western Saline County south of Friend.
“It’s been probably nine years that the landowners have been working on it,” said Jason Edwards, vice president of AED. “Everything from the land, to working with the county commissioners, it’s been many, many years for them.”
Edwards said the 37 turbine project, called Milligan 3, should be completed in six months, depending on the weather.
“By early 2018, we should have everything done and generating electricity,” he said.
Each turbine will have a 14 foot wide base and will be 424 feet high when a blade is pointing straight up.
Most of the parts being used in the turbines are being built in Colorado and will be transported to Saline County once construction begins in earnest.
“The concrete and a lot of the construction material, though, is provided locally,” Edwards said.
The concrete will be the longest part of construction, as it takes a month for the foundation of each turbine to set. After that, things will go quickly.
“To put the tower up, they’ll do that in a day,” he said. “They’ll probably average, when they’re ready to actually start putting the towers, six a week.”
Because most of the work being done is specialized, Edwards said the company can’t bring in local construction companies for most of the work. He added that the company will try to bring in as many locals as they can.
But, before they can work on the windmills, AED will have to ensure all the equipment can get to its locations.
Ric Nelson, the director of construction on the project, said the weight of the equipment requires higher quality roads.
“The cranes that we use out here come in on 28 to 30 tractor trailers,” he said. “It takes a week to put them together and there will be two.”
Nelson also emphasized the difficulty of building wind turbines in a windy area.
“When you’re raising these turbines, when you’ve got [the first two] tower sections up, you can’t put the third tower section up until you’re ready to go all the way up with it,” he said. “We’ve got wind scientists on our phones, and they’ll say, ‘In 20 minutes, you’re gonna get a 10 MPH gust of wind come through,’ and we have to wait on that. If there’s a lightning strike within 30 miles of anywhere on the site, you shut down. It’s all dependent on Mother Nature.”
Gary Aksamit, president of AED, said he became interested in wind energy about 10 years ago as the price of renewable energy came down.
“I realized there was going to be a point where renewable [energy] was going to be cheaper than fossil fuels or thermal generation,” he said. “We’re there today. This project is being sold to buyers out of state at half of what Nebraskans are paying for electricity.”
The Milligan 3 project is AED’s first wind farm. Previously, Aksamit said they had worked with natural gas energy production, but Thayer County wanted to expand and bring the business back home and help his home state.
“For the past 35 years of my life, I’ve been spurred on by a moment of time, which was April 10, 1985,” he said. “That was when the bank in Alexandria went broke and the FDIC closed the bank. I saw a lot of good people go broke. My hope and prayer was that when I jumped into this wind thing in this part of the world was so that I could get something done before the economy turns south. I hope that there’s some people in the footprint of this project that can use this income.”
For the groundbreaking ceremony, AED gathered the local landowners for a ceremony about a mile northwest of Saline Center and included speeches from Aksamit, Sen. Laura Ebke and Saline County Commissioner Marvin Kohout.
Ebke said she’s excited to see a new resource being used in the county.
“It’s exciting to see [Aksamit] bring this business to this part of the state,” Ebke told the landowners. “Looking around the country, what do states and localities do in terms of revenue? They tax their resources. Florida taxes its sun with tourist activities. Texas taxes oil. We tax land and we all know that property taxes are too high, but this will be a way to offset some of that for some folks in the county.”
Kohout said he was excited to have the improved infrastructure in Saline County.
“We’ll have the roads improved on some of the haul routes,” he said. “We also have to look at the big picture by going green. All of us have to do something to make things more sustainable. Wind is something Saline County has been blessed with, so we might as well utilize it.”