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NPPD’s R-Line Project and Wind Energy

Published: Oct. 18, 2020 at 2:52 AM CDT
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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) -They may not be your grandfather’s windmills, but they are your grandchildren’s.

Should wind turbines grace the skylines of Nebraska? Who gets to decide?

The subject of wind in the Sandhills being used for energy is an emotionally charged topic.

Cherry County Commissioner and Candidate for District 43 Legislature Tanya Storer told News 2 she is “not for wind.” She told News 2 that even though she has extended family who is on-board with wind energy, so does her opponent, Senator Tom Brewer.

Groups across the Sandhills, such as Save the Sandhills and Preserve the Sandhills have publicly blamed and criticized Storer and the 3-member Cherry County Commissioners for not banning wind. There have even been lawsuits filed against the county. A complaint was filed about “conflict of interest by two commissioners," plus a petition to reverse the granting of the initial conditional use permit (CUP) on October 29, 2019 to BSH Kilgore for a wind farm near Kilgore. Preserve the Sandhills filed a third complaint on June 26 asking the court in Cherry County to vacate, reverse, and nullify an extension for the CUP.

One lawsuit was dismissed by Cherry County District Judge Mark Kozisek on Sept. 10. Judge Kozisek ruled on CI 20-44 as an improper law suit. One lawsuit (CI 19-74) where Preserve the Sandhills appealed the original granting of the CUP is pending.

Storer says those against wind in Cherry County and across the Sandhills have already won. She says she has done everything she can legally to make placing wind in the Sandhills undesirable, but that she cannot just drop a gavel and declare “no wind” in the Sandhills.

News 2 asked Senator Tom Brewer about wind, too.

When asked about how he feels about on the Pine Ridge Reservation and other Native American land getting prepared to build “one of the largest wind power developments in the country,” according to The Oceti Sakowin Power Project website at www.ospower.org, Brewer said he is against the idea of wind in that capacity, as well. In October, 2017, the transmission interconnection queue positions were secured with Southwest Power Pool (SPP) for the first two projects - Pass Creek on Pine Ridge Reservation and Ta’Teh Topah on Cheyenne River Reservation.

As a decendent of the Oglala Sioux people, Senator Brewer compared the building of wind turbines on Indian reservations to how Native Americans were decieved into selling their land for beads all those years ago. But he says he is not part of the governing body of the project.

But back to the Sandhills, another project is on hold. The R-Project is a 345,000-volt transmission line from NPPD’s Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland to NPPD’s existing substation east of Thedford. The new line will proceed east and connect to a second substation to be sited in Holt County.

But some, including Senator Brewer, oppose the R-Project, saying it will usher in more wind energy.

NPPD CEO and President Tom Kent told News 2 the R-Project basically does three things. Those three are reduce congestion, improves reliability and allows the interconnection of renewable resources.

General Manager of Custer Public Power Rick Nelson will never forget the drought of 2012 when reliability became a real issue for his customers all across what they call “zone 5.”

But Senator Tom Brewer is not convinced, saying he disagrees with the route being taken by NPPD. He told News 2 it goes out of the way, and that NPPD is not being truthful.

NPPD’s Kent was adamant NPPD is being transparent, saying the line follows the necessary route to access Thedford.

While the topic has legislators, county commissioners, landowners, public power, environments and special interest groups, it also has Governor Pete Ricketts addressing the issue. In a statement, Governor Ricketts told News 2 his stance on the R-Line Project.

Cherry County Wind is a group comprised of landowners in Cherry County hoping to use wind energy as a way to off-set the high price of property taxes. One member and landowner telling News 2 his thoughts about private property rights and the danger of environmental groups, some of which are fighting against each other.

This explained, meaning, if one environmental group wants wind energy for the sake of renewable resources and global warming, for example; another does not want wind because of what they say it does to the land. Adding that “blowouts” are a concern for those against turbines, but that cattle cause blowouts too - asking, “are they going to eventually ban cattle in the sandhills for causing blowouts?”

Landowner Dave Hamilton told News 2 he believes people in the Sandhills just don’t want to look at the turbines.

Storer believes she would have been a hero to many people if she would have “slammed down the gavel against wind in the Sandhills.” She said it would have not only been illegal, but dangerous for all free enterprise, including agriculture.

Senator Brewer said he does not like seeing the feud being caused, adding Nebraska does not need the power. Landowners and NPPD told News 2 the exporting of energy not needed is aligned with the other exporting the state does.

According to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, $1,318,500,000 of beef and veal exports were reported in 2018. Cash receipts from farm markets contributed more than $21 million to Nebraska’s economy in 2018.

A final look at the R-Line Project. NPPD’s Kent says the project will be completed. The delays make the project cost more. When first proposed the project was set at $364 million in 2017. The new current proposed budget is $473 million to finish. That makes the R-Line $2.1 million per mile.

Copyright 2020 KNOP. All rights reserved.

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