Letter to the Editor

NPPD R-Project: Sen. Hughes misinformed

Monday, August 7, 2017

Dear Editor,

Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) has proposed construction of a 345KV transmission line (R-Project) extending from Sutherland, Neb., to Eastern Holt County traversing the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills.

The Nebraska Sandhills cover approximately 19,600 square miles and contain 1.3 million acres (10 percent) of wetlands.

It is the largest stabilized sand dune region in the world and one of the largest contiguous grasslands in the world. There is no comparable area in the United States and it is the most intricate wetland ecosystem in the United States.

It is a very fragile ecoregion that remains relatively pristine and unaltered. A vital part of the Central Flyway, the Sandhills wetlands are crucial habitat to migratory birds, ducks, geese, swans, Sandhill cranes, and the whooping crane.

In contrast to Senator Hughes’ recent column in this paper, one of the purposes of the R-Project is to provide for development of wind energy projects in this region.

This can be verified by looking at the NPPD website, their public flyers, and throughout the draft Environmental Impact Statement submitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department (USFW).

As far back as 2011, the Cherry County Wind Energy Committee appointed by the Cherry County Commissioners met with Mr. Pat Pope, the CEO of NPPD, and Mr. Pope “gave the committee direction on working with the Southwest Power Pool (SWPP) to help facilitate transmission lines in Cherry County to export energy produced by the area.

Additionally, “In order for wind energy to work in Cherry County the SWPP has to agree to move a proposed transmission line north so electricity can be transmitted out of the county to other parts of the country that need it.”

As is frequently stated by NPPD and reiterated by Senator Hughes, NPPD used a comprehensive public involvement process with multiple public meeting during the siting of the high voltage transmission line.

Left unsaid by both Senator Hughes and NPPD is that at each and every one of these meetings there has been strong and vocal opposition both to siting this massive structure thru the Sandhills and to the exponentially compounded damage that will occur to this unique, fragile, and ecologically vital area associated with wind energy development.

There has been strong grassroots opposition to this project since its inception with many, if not most, of the residents of the Sandhills feeling that industrial energy development is entirely unsuitable for this fragile, pristine, and undisturbed ecoregion.

Also left unsaid is that most environmental groups that strongly support wind energy development do so in developed corridors and in areas of previously disturbed ground but not in pristine and ecologically sensitive areas like the Sandhills of Nebraska.

NPPD has been a member of the SWPP since 2009. This is a consortium of public utilities covering 14 states. They share markets and transmission. NPPD seems to be more than willing to sacrifice our states finest natural resource at the bidding of the SWPP.

On July 17, NPPD used their influence in the Washington, DC office of USFW to stop a public servant, Mr. Bob Harms of USFW, from speaking to a group of approximately 45 concerned citizens in Thedford, Neb., regarding the draft Environmental Impact Statement.

As these citizens gathered for this private meeting Mr. Harms had left Thedford at the last minute and was already en route back to his office in Alda as directed by his Washington, DC office. During the meeting, NPPD representative were seen photographing vehicles parked outside the meeting site.

This direct intervention by NPPD seems to be a definite abuse of authority and political power brokering.

One has to ask why NPPD wants the public to be uniformed. They have shown themselves to be a disingenuous, heavy handed, and arrogant bureaucratic organization with the easement acquisition process and always with the threat of condemnation/eminent domain.

One also has to ask why they have this legislated authority [eminent domain] when they function as a pawn of the SWPP, a 14-state consortium.

Does the SWPP know or care what is best for Nebraska or Nebraskans? NPPD has little, if any, legislative oversight. They answer only to their board of directors and the SWPP. They are well-funded with significant political influence.

Their lobbyists in Lincoln serve to influence our state legislators.

Most importantly, one also has to ask why a Nebraska legislator, Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, seems to be so uninformed.

Senator Hughes has obviously heard the NPPD side of the story. Now he needs to reach out to the Nebraskans he represents as Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and hear “the other side of the story”.

Brent L Steffen, M.D.

Kearney, Neb.

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