In response to the column by Nebraska Public Power District CEO Pat Pope I would suggest that he and NPPD are not necessarily the good guys in the rose-colored picture he painted in his column about the benefits of public power. Historically public power has been good for Nebraska and its early electrification, but NPPD is now a bloated government subsidiary with minimal state oversight.
He indirectly compared himself to U.S. Sen. George Norris stating, “I do share some of his perspective and vision about projects that benefit the state.” One such project is the R-Project slated to pass for 224 miles through the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills. This is a $360 million industrial 345 kilovolt transmission line. Since 2009, NPPD has been in the 14-state Southwest Power Pool consortium of public and for-profit utilities. Their documents from 2012 show “The Gentleman-Cherry Co.-Holt Co. 345 kV line in Nebraska has been proposed chiefly to provide access for wind development in Cherry Co. …”
The Sandhills are one of the world’s largest contiguous grasslands and the largest stabilized sand dune region. They are 11-percent groundwater derived wetlands. They provide crucial habitat to migratory birds. The Sandhills remain pristine and unaltered. They are unique and truly Nebraska’s finest natural resource.
Most residents of the Sandhills, as well as many throughout the state and from other states feel this very fragile, pristine ecoregion is entirely unsuitable for such an industrial project and that future wind energy development will exponentially compound the damage.
This view is shared by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club that support wind energy development in developed corridors, but not in pristine, environmentally sensitive areas. The University of Nebraska Center for Great Plains Studies has said that “NPPD proposes to intrude a destructive and highly-impactful powerline through a nearly pristine area of great environmental importance and fragility. Convenient and acceptable alternative routes for the line exist. Only an agency driven by environmental ignorance and arrogance would propose such a destructive intrusion.”
Easements for 630 parcels are being obtained using eminent domain or the threat of eminent domain, stripping landowners of their property rights. NPPD’s right-of-way contractors use NPPD business cards and stationery and drive NPPD vehicles.
NPPD has said that “Nebraska and the SWPP currently have surplus generation capacity.” Wind energy will add to the surplus. I do not think the legislative intent of giving eminent domain to public utilities anticipated that these utilities would produce energy in excess of the state’s needs and that this excess would be pooled and marketed by public and for-profit utilities in other states.
Pope said, “We don’t do it for money, because public power is not-for-profit,” yet he is the highest paid state official with a salary in excess of $700,000. He also said, “We don’t do it for fame because even in doing the right things, someone will tell us it’s wrong.”
Mr. Pope, you may become famous for doing the wrong thing. When you are wrong you need to be told. A multitude of people are telling you that you are now doing the wrong thing. If NPPD’s promise is truly “to enhance the quality of life in Nebraska, now and in the future,” you need to listen to the public that you are supposed to serve.
Brent Steffen is a retired vascular surgeon from Kearney and landowner and cattle producer near Thedford in Thomas County in the Sandhills.
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