NPPD’s R-line threatens whooping cranes, Sandhills
Is it OK to kill an endangered species and destroy a Nebraska treasure unique to the world so a handful of people can make money off of the federal government? We’re about to find out.
According to the Audubon Society, there are about 603 whooping cranes left in three different flocks, two of which stay in the southern United States and do not migrate. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 431 whooping cranes are in the one flock that does migrate from south Texas to Canada each year. This flock flies back and forth right through the heart of Nebraska.
The No. 1 cause of death in these migrating whooping cranes is wire strikes with power lines. Don’t take my word for it. All of this information is contained in the many studies found in the extensive public comments to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement to Nebraska Public Power District’s (NPPD) proposed “R Project.”
The proposed R-Project is a 225-mile-long, 345 kilovolt high-voltage power line that is going to tear through the heart of the Nebraska’s Sandhills, the most environmentally sensitive region of our state.
The Sandhills are geologically unique. There is not another place like them on Earth. They are very fragile and will not recover from the destruction that is being planned for them. The scar it is going to leave across Nebraska will be visible from space well into the next century.
What could be so important that we destroy one of our few beautiful and unique places in Nebraska and kill endangered species in the process?
The modern world we all want to live in demands we have public infrastructure like power lines, and I know no one wants them in their back yard. NPPD argues the line is necessary for load balancing and to provide redundancy in the event tornadoes and ice storms knock down the power lines, which is sound reasoning.
Other routes less harmful
But I will argue the fact that NPPD has several different routes they can chose to accomplish this goal. These routes follow roads and use existing utility corridors where there are already power lines. They don’t destroy our Sandhills and they pose less of a threat to the whooping crane.
So why didn’t NPPD save themselves all this grief and choose one of the other routes?
I think the proposed R-Project is being built specifically for wind energy development in the Sandhills. There are meeting minutes from the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) that attest to this fact. NPPD met with wind developers in Cherry County three times in 2011 on how to lobby the SPP to build a line into the Sandhills. SPP issued their notice to construct on April 9, 2012. The Cherry County Wind Energy Association, a consortium of land owners in Cherry County, became a for-profit company just 10 days later on April 19, 2012.
Wind energy development
NPPD told me they knew of only one wind energy company that had made an “interconnect” request to the new proposed R-Line. However, the Southwest Power Pool’s public website records five additional industrial wind facilities with plans to connect to the R-Project, totaling over 1,500 milliwatt, or over 800 turbines planned for the Sandhills, many right in the middle of the whooping crane flyway.
The destructive route the proposed R-Line follows was chosen because it will allow future wind energy projects an “interconnect” capability, tying their industrial wind facility to the power grid. It financially benefits a handful of people (including elected officials). Load balancing and redundancy are not the main reasons for the R-Line. Money in the hands of a few people is the main reason.