North-central Nebraska transmission line could spark energy boom

Source: By Daniel Wheaton /Omaha World-Herald News Service • Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2013

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Public Power District’s plans for a new transmission line spanning 220 miles across north-central Nebraska is sparking excitement in the area.

Known as the R-Project, it would create a 345,000-volt transmission line starting at the Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland, heading north and then turning due east to the Holt/Antelope county line.

NPPD officials have said the $290 million project could open the door for expansion of renewable energy.

Mark Becker, an NPPD spokesman, 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 Energy Association has been waiting for a way to spark the development of wind energy in the region. All it needed, Adamson said, is a way to move the energy if turbines are installed. The R-Project would do just that.

The wind association hopes wind energy can help turn around the region. Like many other rural Nebraska towns, Adamson said, Valentine has seen its population dwindle.

“This could be as big as when the railroad came through,” he 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 Hladik, senior policy advocate at the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons.

The current plan calls for building towers every quarter-mile along the route, but the geography of the project has ruffled some feathers.

Nearly all of the line would cross the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills, so NPPD says it will restore parts of the landscape that may be harmed during the construction.

The organization Bold Nebraska has called on its members to 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 director Jane Kleeb said. “NPPD should bring in experts from (the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and other places to make sure they aren’t damaging the Sand Hills.”

If everything goes according to plan, construction would begin in summer 2016 and the line would be operational by 2018.