What a Relief!

Mid-April precipitation was a welcome sight in Nebraska, but it’s going to take more than that to battle back against last year’s hot, dry weather. “Even though it’s improved, it’s still an exceptionally bad situation” in Nebraska, said State Climatologist Al Dutcher in an interview with the Omaha World-Herald.

And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of relief in the near future. “The seasonal weather outlook for the months of June, July and August call for above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation in Nebraska,” said Vice President and Chief Operating OfficerTom Kent. “Not wanting a repeat of the transmission issues we faced last summer in the central part of the state, we began preparing months ago on ways to meet customer demand and maintain a reliable transmission system.”

Summer 2012 recap

NPPD set multiple electric generation records from early July through August as temperatures soared and little rain, if any, reached the numerous Nebraska fields of corn and soybeans across the states mid-section. The demand for electricity was high due to increased use of air conditioning, increased irrigation and overall drought conditions.

To be specific, NPPD set a record for generationwith 3,030 megawatts on July 25. In addition, NPPD exceeded its previous record for generation of 2,671 megawatts set on July 30, 2006, more than 30 times last summer.

“We were able to generate enough electricity from our various power plants to meet the needs of our customers last summer,” said Kent, “but our transmission system in the area of what we call Zone 5, which covers the north central portion of the state, was challenged. In limited cases, some curtailment was needed to avoid overloading transmission lines and maintain reliability of the system.” NPPD requested energy conservation by all customers, and the voluntary efforts of District customers and irrigators assisted in reducing overloading.

Near-term assistance

While NPPD owns two mobile diesel generators, its Board of Directors recently approved renting 20 additional units to be installed at five key locations in Zone 5 and available for use this summer. The mobile generators are each 2-megawatt trailer mounted units that can provide up to eight megawatts of energy into the system at each of the five locations. The combined cost of rental, installation and fuel to operate the generators is difficult to determine, but could be as high as $8 million depending on how much the generators are expected to run.

Siting the mobile generators is just one of the additional steps NPPD has taken since last summer in anticipation of another period of continued hot, dry weather.

“We immediately began looking last summer at the transmission system in Zone 5 and how we could avoid the same situation in 2013,” Kent explained. Since then, NPPD has been working on various equipment upgrades, including replacing the conductor on a critical transmission line between the District’s Battle Creek and North Norfolk substations. This project is complete, and all other planned upgrades are expected to be finished before mid-June.

“We anticipate weather conditions similar to a year ago, and we have indications of additional irrigation growth in this area,” Kent added. “We continue to work with our wholesale partners to coordinate and communicate work being done to provide the reliable transmission of electricity our customers expect.”

For the long-term

The near-term improvement projects will certainly help, but the District is also working on a few bigger projects that will assist in providing long-term support for the state’s transmission system. For instance, NPPD is building a new 345,000-volt transmission line between its Hoskins substation, located southwest of Hoskins, to a new substation in the Neligh area.

The approximately 50-mile-long Hoskins-Neligh line will enhance operation of NPPD’s electric transmission system and provide additional opportunities for development of renewable energy projects. Specifically  this project will help serve customers’ electricity demands in north central Nebraska.

From start to finish, the Hoskins-Neligh line is expected to take about three-and-a-half years to complete. Throughout the entire process, public involvement is a key component to the project’s success.

“Last October, we began holding public open houses and collecting feedback from landowners,” said Kent. “In the first round of open houses, we shared a study area map with the public. Landowner feedback is one of the criteria the project team used to narrow the study area down to a corridor, which was shared with the public at a second round of open houses in February.”

The Hoskins-Neligh project team is currently preparing for a third round of open houses, scheduled for mid-May. At these open houses, project team members will share a preferred line route and one or two alternative line routes, as well as preferred and alternative substation sites.

Line construction is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2015, and the line is expected to be in operation by June 2016.

“We are on the fast track with this project so we can effectively meet customers’ energy needs in the Zone 5 area,” said Kent. “I know this project is a big undertaking in a short period of time, but we’ve had compressed schedules before, and I have every faith the project team will meet the schedule.”

Also in the works is a much larger project in the Sand Hills area, referred to as the R-Project. The R-Project is a 345,000-volt transmission line that will run from Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland north to the Cherry County area and then east to near the Holt/Antelope County line, where it will tie into Western Area Power Administration’s 345,000-volt transmission line. The line is estimated to be 220 miles long.

With one round of open houses behind them, the R-Project project team is working to narrow down the study area and share a corridor(s) with the public in mid-August.

“When finished, the R-Project will be the longest transmission line NPPD has built in quite some time,” said Kent. “The terrain we need to build the line in is challenging, and we want to minimize disturbances to the Sand Hills as much as possible. We are seeking advice from restoration experts and the public on ways to minimize impact and then restore the area to as close to its original setting as possible.”

This project is scheduled to be complete in late 2017.