A power line project being planned in north central Nebraska is causing controversy between some landowners and the Nebraska Public Power District.
The R-Project is a 220 mile long transmission line that NPPD says is needed to improve power service for areas of Nebraska and other states.
Landowners like Skylar Loeffler are banding together in a coalition called “Save the Sandhills” to say no to the R-Project and its proposed route.
“The health impacts for humans, the health impacts for the livestock, for cattle, the impacts that it has on crops, the impacts on wildlife are a huge concern,” says Loeffler.
Some opposed ranchers say a big power line crossing their land could put conservation programs and their businesses in jeopardy.
“The Sandhills is one of the most fragile ecosystems in the western hemisphere and of the 220 miles of this line, 177 miles of it are to go right through the Sandhills,” says Garfield County rancher Lynn Ballagh.
NPPD has hosted open houses along their preferred route – which stretches from Gentleman Station at Sutherland, north toward Thedford where a substation expansion is planned, then east to the Wheeler-Holt County line where the R-Project would join up with a north-south line that runs from South Dakota to Grand Island.
Terry Warth, NPPD Manager of Advocacy Group Relations, says the open houses are the third step in their process of narrowing down where the line could be built.
“That’s part of the reason why we’re going through this process is to get that information and try to alleviate those concerns as much as we can, but we still have a long ways to go – we are not even down to an individual route yet,” Warth says. “We realize that the Sandhills is a very fragile area – we understand that, and our goal is to mitigate that impact as much as we possibly can.”
NPPD and the Southwestern Power Pool, a group of utilities from nine states that NPPD belongs to, say the line will use new construction techniques to improve reliability for the region, and encourage wind power development.
“If [NPPD] were to develop those wind resources, or if somebody else wanted to develop those wind resources, they have to tap into the transmission system to get the power to where it’s needed,” says Warth.
Opposed landowners say they want to protect their property first.
“We like being able to flip that switch as much as anybody does, but we want a common sense approach to how the money is going to be spent,” says Loeffler. “I think that their stated goals could be met in other ways and so they don’t have to march a high-line across the center of the Sandhills.”
“People that put [wind turbines] in have a choice – if they want a wind turbine on their place,” says Ballagh. “They gave us no choice on whether we want this transmission line across us to carry some of that wind power.”
Both sides say they hope their information and voices are heard as the process continues.
“Whether it be through the construction process and also the restoration process, we want to really work with that landowner and again minimize those impacts,” says Warth.
The R-Project line will cost $328 million, of which NPPD would pay 7 percent since they’re in the Southwestern Power Pool. That also means NPPD is responsible for costs of other projects in other SPP states. They say much of the R-Project’s power it would carry would stay in Nebraska, but could also be sent to other states.