Columbus, Neb. – Nebraska Public Power District announced today the final line route for its R-Project 345,000-volt transmission line that will meet reliability needs of the Nebraska transmission system and reduce congestion on the existing system. The line will also provide new transmission capacity to address future renewable generation.
Landowners along the route were notified of the final line route this week, completing a nearly two-year long process. NPPD conducted 26 open houses and meetings with the public, held eight public hearings, and accepted more than 2,500 comments during the routing process. In total, nearly 1,800 individuals attended the various open houses and hearings. The District completed state required public hearings in November and has reviewed input from those meetings in determining the final route. The final route was chosen after considering all comments received throughout the entire public process.
The line will run north from NPPD’s Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland, to the existing Thedford substation that will be expanded to support the new transmission line and transformer that will interconnect with the underlying 115,000 volt system at Thedford. The line will then run east towards Holt County to a new substation that will be constructed connecting into an existing Western Area Power Administration 345,000 volt transmission line.
The District will begin to contact landowners to gain right-of-entry into private property during the next step of the process.
“The right-of-entry is very important for the project and the landowners,” explained NPPD Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Kent. “This gives NPPD an opportunity to gain access to property and work closely with landowners in determining very specific issues regarding siting of structures. Without that access, we will have to determine locations for structures based on aerial photography, and once we have the structures engineered, there may be lost opportunity to make changes to further improve structure locations to address a landowner’s specific issues.
“The earlier we can obtain a right-of-entry, the better for landowners in identifying specific issues and determining locations of the structures with their assistance. In using aerial photography, we can be extremely accurate in siting structures, but getting a better understanding of potential land use in the future from landowners helps the process.”
Kent explained that NPPD’s public involvement process was intended to determine the most suitable route while minimizing impacts to landowners. In developing the final route, the District has reviewed more than 2,500 comments from landowners and various agencies. Determination of the line route was based on established line routing criteria that included proximity to occupied residences, towns and villages and other amenities, the impact to farming and ranching operations, plus land use, environmental, engineering and construction criteria.
“Gathering information from landowners has been extremely helpful because some specific issues were identified that have led to changes in the route as we have gone through the process of moving from a study area to the final line route,” Kent pointed out.
Kent explained that the proposed route initially had some changes from what was announced in April and May of 2014, resulting in avoiding a private airstrip, reducing the number of homes in proximity to the line, gaining improved access for construction, having fewer shelterbelts in the right of way, and avoiding new Wetland Reserve Program properties, while adding length and angles to the 220-plus mile project estimated to cost $361 million.
The District plans to use a combination of steel poles and lattice-towers. The steel poles will typically be used on sections of the project that have relatively good access, or are near established roads and in cultivated fields. The lattice towers will be installed on the sections of the project that have limited access. The lattice towers were selected because they minimize impacts to the fragile soils due to the options they provide for construction. For example, the lattice towers can be erected with helicopters which negate the need to have a large crane at each site and helical pier foundations rather than concrete foundations.
“There have been concerns about restoring the Sandhills after construction,” said Kent, who noted that NPPD has hired a grasslands expert to consult on the restoration work. “NPPD has built transmission lines through the Sandhills over the years and has successfully constructed and conducted maintenance on these lines many times. Our approach to restoration is first to avoid and minimize damage during construction, perform the necessary mitigation, and gather input from stakeholders on the restoration work.
“Besides subject matter experts who will advise us on restoration, we are counting on landowners to tell us what they have faced and done in the past in restoring blowouts in this area. We do understand that it will take some time to restore damages resulting from construction of the line, but we intend to continue working with the landowners to restore the land as best as we can.”
An easement compensation plan with landowners has been established utilizing payments based on 80 percent of the appraised land value plus structure payments. “We intend to conduct good faith negotiations on compensation with landowners,” he added.
Right of entry is expected to begin in February and continue through July 2015, while engineering design for the project is expected to last into 2016. Easement acquisition is expected to run from September 2015 through February 2017. Line construction will follow starting in February 2017 with initial restoration activities running through November 2018. The line is planned to be in-service by September 2018.
The need for the line was identified by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) in its Integrated Transmission Plan. SPP, which NPPD is a member of, is a regional transmission organization that is governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure adequate transmission capacity is planned, and reliable operation of the transmission system is provided in the SPP region.
NPPD rate payers will pay seven percent of the costs of the project as part of its SPP membership, but will also pay a similar cost for projects in other locations in the SPP footprint for new transmission lines 345,000-volts and higher.
(Editor’s Note: A map of the final line route is available at https://www.nppd.com/assets/rproject/finalroutemap.pdf.)