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Opponents air their grievances

In what might signal some tough sledding ahead for wind-power development in Nebraska, grievances will be presented Friday related to construction of a high-voltage power-transmission line planned in south-central Nebraska. Opponents to the project from Axtell, Neb., to the Kansas border don't want 125- to 150-foot-tall power poles cutting through their farmland, particularly since they believe that the main beneficiary of the $87 million project is a giant wind farm in Kansas.

LINCOLN - In what might signal some tough sledding ahead for wind-power development in Nebraska, grievances will be presented Friday related to construction of a high-voltage power-transmission line planned in south-central Nebraska.

Opponents to the project from Axtell, Neb., to the Kansas border don't want 125- to 150-foot-tall power poles cutting through their farmland, particularly since they believe that the main beneficiary of the $87 million project is a giant wind farm in Kansas.

"I don't see any point to connecting to the windiest place in Kansas. I'm for Nebraska," said Eric Boudreau, whose family farm is near Upland, Neb., about 35 miles southwest of Hastings.

Boudreau says opposition to the Axtell-to-Kansas transmission line goes beyond the typical "not in my backyard" arguments. But officials with Nebraska's power industry predicted that the state's quest to play catch-up in the wind-energy game would require hurdling public opposition to new transmission lines.

Just as wider highways are needed when traffic increases, construction of bigger, expensive and often controversial transmission lines will be needed to transport the increased electricity generated by the wind... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

LINCOLN - In what might signal some tough sledding ahead for wind-power development in Nebraska, grievances will be presented Friday related to construction of a high-voltage power-transmission line planned in south-central Nebraska.

Opponents to the project from Axtell, Neb., to the Kansas border don't want 125- to 150-foot-tall power poles cutting through their farmland, particularly since they believe that the main beneficiary of the $87 million project is a giant wind farm in Kansas.

"I don't see any point to connecting to the windiest place in Kansas. I'm for Nebraska," said Eric Boudreau, whose family farm is near Upland, Neb., about 35 miles southwest of Hastings.

Boudreau says opposition to the Axtell-to-Kansas transmission line goes beyond the typical "not in my backyard" arguments. But officials with Nebraska's power industry predicted that the state's quest to play catch-up in the wind-energy game would require hurdling public opposition to new transmission lines.

Just as wider highways are needed when traffic increases, construction of bigger, expensive and often controversial transmission lines will be needed to transport the increased electricity generated by the wind farms sought in the Cornhusker State.

Construction of more wind farms is expected after the State Legislature passed a law this spring to encourage larger, privately owned farms that will export power to less windy states.

Gov. Dave Heineman has said he wants Nebraska to climb into the top 10 nationally for wind-power generation within 10 years, which would require almost a 10-fold increase in generation.

It will be mid-July before the state's new wind-energy law, Legislative Bill 1048, goes into effect. If any new wind farms are built near the state's borders or in areas where transmission lines are adequate, fewer miles of high-voltage lines will be needed.

But the state's wind-energy proponents say the case of the Axtell line bears watching.

"This is where the rubber hits the road for the communities along the way," said Rich Lombardi, a Lincoln lobbyist who represents a pro-wind development group, the American Wind Energy Association.

The Nebraska Power Review Board will take testimony Friday from opponents of the Axtell line and from the Nebraska Public Power District, which is building the line. At 345-kilovolts, it matches the highest-voltage lines that exist in the state.

NPPD officials say the line is needed to improve the overall reliability of transmission across the state and to help the utility export more power to other states from its Gerald Gentleman coal-fired power station.

By building the Axtell line, NPPD can sell more power, which in turn helps lower local electric rates, said Mark Becker, a spokesman for the Columbus-based public utility.

"Due to congestion on the line, there are times we can't get that power out to sell to other utilities," Becker said.

Currently, NPPD has only two major transmission routes into Kansas. The Axtell line would provide a third. It would end at Spearville, Kan., which is known as the "windmill capital of Kansas" because of the wind-energy farm there.

Becker said the 230-mile-long project, which will cost about $287 million, affects one of the top 10 congested areas for electric transmission in the nine-state Southwest Power Pool.

NPPD, the Omaha Public Power District and the Lincoln Electric System recently joined the power pool, based in Arkansas, in large part to capitalize on its multistate grid to export power from wind and other sources.

But while proponents of the Axtell line say a new transmission line would benefit Nebraska, opponents argue that Kansas and its new and existing wind farms will get a bigger boost.

Opponents point to documents from the Kansas Electric Transmission Authority, created five years ago to increase export of Kansas-produced energy. KETA chose the Axtell line as its first project, saying it promised the "largest benefits" to the state.

Boudreau said it appears the line will just allow increased export of wind power from Kansas, which could hurt wind farm construction in Nebraska.

He also questioned the added expense of the proposed route. It takes a 14-mile jog east of Axtell to avoid Rainwater Basin wetlands, which adds an estimated $20 million to the cost. Even with the detour, the line crosses land used by thousands of migrating ducks, geese and Sandhill cranes, Boudreau said.

"Environmentally, [this line] doesn't make sense, economically it doesn't make sense and it doesn't make sense for Nebraska," he said.

Becker, the NPPD spokesman, said it's not always possible to build transmission lines in a straight path, especially when dealing with "environmentally sensitive" areas.

He said three public meeting have been held to discuss the preferred route for the Axtell line to work with landowners and said only one home is within 300 feet of that route. NPPD tries to avoid placing lines near homes.

The NPPD board could rule Friday or defer a decision. NPPD is also required to hold final hearings on the route, which would provide another avenue for residents to object.

As for the chances of seeing more opposition to future transmission lines for wind farms based in this state, NPPD officials and other pro-wind advocates said one key will be to show that the state will benefit by building such high-voltage lines.

LB 1048 provides a chance for local power utilities to obtain up to a 10-percent stake in any private wind farm being built, which, in concept, would make it easier for local residents to swallow a transmission line project since there would be some local involvement.

The law requires any new transmission lines being built for a private wind farm to be financed by that private company, except for portions that benefit public power. (By contrast, the Axtell line will be financed one-third by NPPD and two-thirds by the other utilities in the Southwest Power Pool.)

David Levy, an Omaha attorney for Midwest Energy, which operates a wind farm near Bloomfield, Neb., and is building another near Petersburg, Neb., said there will always be people who don't want transmission poles planted in their back yard.

But hopefully, Levy said, seeing local benefits of a wind farm will lessen such opposition.

"I think there's a difference if the wind farm itself is located in Nebraska," he said.


Source: http://www.nptelegraph.com/...

MAY 14 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/26222-opponents-air-their-grievances
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