LINCOLN, Nebraska – Citing increased consumer demand and an aged grid, the Nebraska Public Power District is developing plans for a new transmission line spanning 220 miles across north-central Nebraska.
The project, known as the R-Project, would create a 345,000-volt transmission line from the Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland, heading north then turning due east to the Holt/Antelope County line, where it would connect to another transmission line owned by the Western Area Power Administration.
NPPD said the line would relieve congestion and open the door for expansion of renewable energy.
The cost of the project is estimated at $290 million.
“It is needed to provide an additional leg of reliability,” said Mark Becker, NPPD’s media relations specialist. He said the ice storms that hit Nebraska in 2006-7 convinced NPPD that another line was needed.
Becker said the new line would allow NPPD to sell excess energy to other utilities. Currently, the grid cannot sustain an exchange of energy, and any surplus created could not be sold.
The possibility of selling energy has excited many across a large chunk of the state, including Todd Adamson of Valentine.
“We don’t have coal, oil or natural gas,” said Adamson, who farms and ranches in Cherry County. “But we have wind.”
The Cherry County Wind Association has been waiting for a way to spark the development of wind energy in the region. All they need, Adamson said, is a way to move the energy if turbines are installed. The R-Project would do just that.
He estimates roughly 1.5 million acres are available for harnessing wind energy.
The Wind Association hopes wind energy can help turn around the region. Like many other rural Nebraska towns, Adamson said Valentine’s population has been dwindling.
“This could be as big as when the railroad came through,” Adamson said.
The growth of wind energy would be a boon for many communities along the route.
“The R-Project will improve the local economy by ensuring a more reliable electricity system, creating jobs and opening up an area rich in wind resources to development,” said Johnathan Hladick, senior policy advocate at the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons.
NPPD hopes to have 10 percent of all of its power to come from renewable resources by 2020.
The route is still being determined, but a study area was identified in January, and NPPD is gathering information through a series of public meetings.
“The upcoming open houses give landowners within the corridor another opportunity to provide NPPD information about their property,” said NPPD Senior Project Manager Craig Holthe in a press release.
The current plan calls for building towers every quarter of a mile along the route, but the geography of the project has ruffled some feathers.
Nearly all of the line would cross the ecologically sensitive Sandhills, so NPPD says it will restore parts of the landscape that may be harmed during the construction.
Becker said this could include using poles that screw into the ground instead of using concrete and using helicopters instead of heavy trucks to transport materials.
Still, some groups are calling for action. BOLD Nebraska, a political activist group known for its vocal opposition to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, has called on its members to attend the public meetings and voice their opinions about green energy, namely, to encourage wind energy development while mitigating possible environmental harms.
‘People’s voices hold sway in Nebraska,” BOLD’s director Jane Kleeb said. “NPPD should bring in experts from UNL and other places to make sure they aren’t damaging the Sandhills.”
Even though NPPD has goals for more green energy, Kleeb said she felt the plans weren’t concrete enough.
If everything goes according to plan, the project would begin construction in summer 2016 and be operational by 2018.
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