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Neb. wind power won't be a breeze

Today's Nebraska Power Review Board hearing in Lincoln on a proposed Axtell-Kansas transmission line may signal tough sledding ahead for wind-power development in Nebraska and improvements to the grid. Opponents of the Nebraska Public Power District-proposed project don't want 125- to 150-foot-tall power poles cutting through their farmland and pastures.

LINCOLN - Today's Nebraska Power Review Board hearing in Lincoln on a proposed Axtell-Kansas transmission line may signal tough sledding ahead for wind-power development in Nebraska and improvements to the grid.

Opponents of the Nebraska Public Power District-proposed project don't want 125- to 150-foot-tall power poles cutting through their farmland and pastures, particularly since they believe 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 Upland farmer Eric Boudreau.

Boudreau says opposition to the Axtell-to-Kansas transmission line goes beyond the typical "not in my backyard" arguments.

Nebraska's power industry officials have predicted that Nebraska'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.

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LINCOLN - Today's Nebraska Power Review Board hearing in Lincoln on a proposed Axtell-Kansas transmission line may signal tough sledding ahead for wind-power development in Nebraska and improvements to the grid.

Opponents of the Nebraska Public Power District-proposed project don't want 125- to 150-foot-tall power poles cutting through their farmland and pastures, particularly since they believe 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 Upland farmer Eric Boudreau.

Boudreau says opposition to the Axtell-to-Kansas transmission line goes beyond the typical "not in my backyard" arguments.

Nebraska's power industry officials have predicted that Nebraska'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 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, LB1048, 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 heard testimony this afternoon from opponents of the Axtell line and from the NPPD officials.

At 345-kilovolts, the project it matches the highest-voltage lines that exist in the state.

NPPD officials say the line is needed to improve 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-to-Kansas line, NPPD can sell more power, which in turn helps lower local electric rates, said NPPD spokesman Mark Becker of Columbus.

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

NPPD currently 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, Omaha Public Power District and the Lincoln Electric System recently joined the Arkansas-based power pool in large part to capitalize on its multistate grid to export power from wind and other sources. (The $87 million Axtell line will be financed one-third by NPPD and two-thirds by the other utilities in the Southwest Power Pool.)

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.

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

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

The Power Review Board could make a ruling after this afternoon's hearing or defer a decision.

NPPD also is required to schedule 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 Nebraska, NPPD officials and other pro-wind advocates said a key will be to show that the state will benefit by building such high-voltage lines.

LB1048 provides a opportunity for local power utilities to obtain up to a 10-percent stake in any private wind farm being built. In concept, that would make it easier for local residents to accept a transmission line project because there would be some local involvement.

The law requires that 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.

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

Levy hopes that 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.

Nebraska and Wind Energy

The story so far: Nebraska is playing catch-up in the wind energy game. It ranks 24th in the nation in wind-generating capacity, with wind turbines capable of generating 152 megawatts of power. Yet its wind-energy potential ranks among the highest in the nation.

By comparison: Neighboring Iowa ranks No. 2 in generating capacity, with turbines capable of generating 3,604 megawatts of electricity.

The challenge: Building more wind turbines in Nebraska will mean, in most cases, building more transmission lines to carry the electricity to other states. Those lines, like one being planned from Axtell to the Kansas border, can be controversial.


Source: http://kearneyhub.com/news/...

MAY 19 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/26338-neb-wind-power-won-t-be-a-breeze
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