Wind energy leaps ahead in Neb.

WORLD-HERALD NEWS SERVICE • Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012

VALENTINE, Neb. — Opportunities for wind energy in Nebraska took a huge leap forward last week.

The Southwest Power Pool approved a plan to construct a high-voltage transmission line from the Gerald Gentleman Station power plant near Sutherland north into Cherry County and then east through northern Nebraska.

The plan — known as the “r-plan,” because of its shape — was proposed by the Nebraska Transmission Advocacy Group and coordinated by the Nebraska Public Power District, the Lincoln Electric System and the Omaha Public Power District to relieve congestion and enhance reliability.

George Johnson, president of the Cherry County Wind Energy Association, said the association is pleased those entities helped secure the transmission line.

“Approval of the r-plan is the important beginning of a unique and tremendous opportunity for economic development in Cherry County and across the state,” Johnson said.

“We all know the wind blows here and that we can harness the energy. The challenge has been finding a way to ship the energy out,” he said.

Cherry County rancher Jerry Adamson echoed those sentiments.

“This project could possibly have the biggest positive impact on Cherry County as anything we’ve seen since the railroad system was built,” Adamson said.

The Cherry County Wind Energy Association is a nonprofit set into motion at the urging of the Cherry County Board in March 2010.

The association consists of 64 landowner members who have committed more than 750,000 acres of land for wind energy development purposes. It is governed by a nine-member board.

The purpose of the association, Johnson said, is to maximize wind development opportunities while maintaining local control of development and preserving traditional ranching practices.

The first priority of the Cherry County Board members and the association was to ensure that the county’s environmental and wildlife resources were protected and preserved. The association is establishing “no-build zones” for environmentally sensitive areas with the assistance of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

“We have established a very high standard for environmental sensitivity and proactive mitigation efforts that could become a new template for wind energy development,” Johnson said.

A portion of all revenue from wind energy development in the county will be allocated to an independent nonprofit trust that will fund endeavors benefiting all citizens of the county.