VALENTINE – Opportunities for wind energy in Nebraska took a huge leap forward earlier this week.
The Southwest Power Pool approved a plan to construct a high-voltage transmission line from the Gerald Gentleman power plant near Sutherland north into Cherry County and then east throughout much of the northern Nebraska.
The plan (known as the “r-plan” for its shape) was proposed by the Nebraska Transmission Advocacy Group and coordinated by the Nebraska Public Power District, the Lincoln Electric System and the Omaha Public Power District to relieve congestion and enhance reliability.
George Johnson, president of the Cherry County Wind Energy Association, said the association is grateful to those entities for their foresight and advocacy efforts in securing the transmission line.
“Approval of the r-plan is the important beginning of a unique and tremendous opportunity for economic development in Cherry County and across the state,” Johnson said. “We all know the wind blows here and that we can harness the energy. The challenge has been finding a way to ship the energy out. It’s like Wyoming coal without railroads. With no way to export the energy, it’s not worth much. The r-plan is the new railroad, which transmits electricity rather than carrying coal. We’re on the verge of a very exciting time.”
Cherry County rancher Jerry Adamson echoed those sentiments.
“This project could possibly have the biggest positive impact on Cherry County as anything we’ve seen since the railroad system was built,” Adamson said.
The Cherry County Wind Energy Association is a non-profit organization set into motion at the urging of the Cherry County Board of Commissioners in March 2010.
The association consists of 64 landowner members who have committed over 750,000 acres of land for wind energy development purposes. It is governed by a nine-member board.
According to Johnson, the purpose of the association is to maximize wind development opportunities while at the same time maintaining local control of development and preserving traditional ranching practices.
The first priority of the Cherry County commissioners and the association was to ensure that the county’s environmental and wildlife resources were protected and preserved. The association is establishing “no-build zones” for environmentally sensitive areas with the assistance of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
“We have established a very high standard for environmental sensitivity and proactive mitigation efforts that could become a new template for wind energy development,” Johnson said.
A portion of all revenue from wind energy development in the county will be allocated to an independent nonprofit trust that will fund endeavors benefiting all citizens of the county.
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