A grassroots group says a 220-mile power line proposed by the Nebraska Public Power District isn’t necessary and threatens the fragile ecology of the Sandhills.
Save The Sandhills members have expressed their concerns and opposition at recent open houses on the proposed R-Project hosted by NPPD in Stapleton, Sutherland and Thedford.
The project has the support of Bold Nebraska, which has opposed the routing of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline across Nebraska.
NPPD wants to build the 345,000-volt transmission line from Gerald Gentleman Station coal plant, near Sutherland, north to a new substation in or near Cherry County. The line would then go east and connect to a second substation to be built in Holt, Antelope or Wheeler County, where it will tie into an existing federal line.
Dave Hutchinson ranches near Rose and said he and others are worried about damage during construction, especially the creation of large hollows, or blowouts.
“There’s a tremendous amount of high hills and sand,” he said. “It’s very, very sandy. There’s places you don’t drive a pickup and they’re going to bring in big trucks.”
The group, which has more than 100 members, is also concerned about the greater prairie chicken, which biologists say is threatened due to habitat loss. The largest remaining populations are in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
“We care about the birds,” Hutchinson said. “We care about the wildlife. It’s going to affect the wildlife, not to mention human life.”
Although the proposed power line would not cross his ranch, Hutchinson said he is deeply concerned about electric and magnetic fields generated by the high-voltage lines and the potential risk to people, cattle and crops.
Scientists disagree about the health effects of the fields, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but studies have shown some workers exposed to high magnetic fields have increased cancer rates.
NPPD spokesman Mark Becker said the utility consulted experts to address environmental, wildlife, veterinary and human health issues during the siting process, which began in 2012.
“They will sit down and talk to landowners about those particular issues,” he said.
Hutchinson claims NPPD hasn’t repaired blowouts created by past projects.
“It’s never going to heal up,” he said.
But Becker said NPPD has a good track record of repairing damage, including blowouts that results from its work, and will do everything it can to mitigate damage on the R-Project.
Workers will drive on roads instead of fields whenever they can, he said, and they’ll use special towers and foundations for the power line that will cross nine counties.
“The last thing we want is blowouts,” he said. “It would create problems with the (transmission) system.”
NPPD says it needs the power line to enhance the reliability of its transmission system, relieve congestion from existing lines and provide additional opportunities for development of renewable energy projects.
The R-Project is being built in conjunction with the Southwest Power Pool, a regional transmission organization. NPPD, a member of the group, will pay 7 percent of the $328 million cost and other pool members will pay the balance, Becker said.
Hutchinson’s view is that NPPD has excess power and is only building the power line to promote wind farm development in Cherry County, where efforts are underway to attract developers. He claims most of the power carried by the line will be sent to other states.
“We do sell power to other utilities. We’ve done it for years,” Becker said. “This line could be open for exports as well. The electric grid does not stop at the state line.”
NPPD has chosen a preferred route for the project, which is now being discussed during a round of open meetings. Meetings will be in Bartlett, Dunning and Burwell next week.
The Columbus-based utility will hold a public hearing in each county the line would cross before presenting the project to the Nebraska Power Review Board for approval, Becker said.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding