A Nebraska county of only 625 people contained nearly 100 deep underground nuclear missiles, so the US Air Force halted a green-power project that would have revitalized its economy

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wind turbine in a field of turbines against blue sky mountains in the background
Vesta wind turbines in Palm Springs, California, July 21, 2022.David Swanson/Reuters
  • There are hundreds of underground nuclear missiles across rural parts of Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana.

  • The US Air Force says wind turbines can't be constructed within a 2-mile radius of these missiles.

  • Due to underground missiles, a wind turbine project in Banner County, Nebraska, was limited in scope.

In Nebraska's Banner County, the remains of Cold War America are buried right below the surface — and they're hampering the region's ability to put up a big electricty-generating wind farm.

During the 1960s, when the US was locked in a nuclear stalemate with the then-Soviet Union, the Air Force began planting hundreds of nuclear missiles across rural swaths of the country, like in parts of Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana, in case it needed to shoot them into the enemy camp at a given moment.

Now, those missiles are preventing the region from harnessing what could be one of its most valuable resources: strong, gusty winds that would be used to power energy-producing turbines, according to a local publication.

The Flatwater Free Press, an independent news outlet in Nebraska, reported last week that the US Air Force, which in 2019 began to take steps to thwart a wind turbine project in the state's southwest Banner County, now has put what appears to be the final nail in the coffin of the proposed project, nearly three hours northeast of Denver.

Two renewable energy companies, Invenergy and Orion Renewable Energy Group, had singled out Banner for its "world-class wind," the Flatwater Free Press reported. The companies were ready to construct a combined 300 turbines across the region.

Each turbine would have brought in an additional $15,000 in annual income to the landowner whose property it would have been built on, according to the report. The money generated from the turbines would have flushed into Banner's school system and revitalized the 625-person county, advocates said. The total amonut of money the companies would have invested in the project wasn't disclosed in the story.

But the Air Force contended that the turbines would pose a "significant safety hazard" to pilots — especially during storms or blizzards. The Air Force uses helicopters to inspect and perform security operations around the nuclear silos. There are 82 missle silos that are still actively manned 24-7 in the Panhandle of Nebraska, Flatwater reports.

The Air Force decided that the turbines needed to be constructed 2.3 miles away from the nuclear missle silos to ensure that the pilots doing routine maintenance or security operations on the silos would have enough space to maneuver. Until then, a quarter mile between each proposed turbine had been sufficient, the publication reported.

The new guidelines, explained to residents in May, significantly cut the number of possible turbines that could be constructed. The Banner-area project alone would have increased Nebraska's wind power-generating capacity by 25%, the publication reported.

Meanwhile, some of Banner's residents have been left frustrated and disillusioned by the Air Force's new guidelines. "This resource is just there, ready to be used," one Banner landowner said. "How do we walk away from that?"

Read the full story by The Flatwater Free Press here.

 

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