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NPPD announces final R-Project transmission line route

January 26, 2015

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://rproject.nppd.com.)

When are rates set?
NPPD rates are reviewed annually, and any proposed rate changes are normally approved during NPPD’s December Board of Directors Meeting.

Will my bill be higher this month because of the cold weather and rolling outages?
Most NPPD customers can expect to see a higher monthly electricity bill this month due to the recent cold weather event which caused customers to have higher usage.  A higher bill would not be the result of a rate increase however because the rates did not change.

Does my NPPD rate change throughout the year?
When proposing a rate change, NPPD typically sets and approves rates during the December Board of Directors Meeting. The rates that are approved go into effect February 1 of the next year.

The only other time NPPD’s rates change during the year is when the higher summer rates automatically go into effect for the months of June through September. Aside from this, any increase or decrease in your bill is likely tied to increased energy usage during severe cold or hot weather.

NPPD retail rates have remained steady with no overall increase in eight years.

How will February’s cold temperatures and rolling outages impact my rates in future years?
The financial impact of the most recent historic polar vortex events as it relates to rates are unclear at the present time. Many factors, including future weather impacts, load growth, and the cost to generate and deliver electricity will impact NPPD’s financial position and rates.

How will cold temperatures and rolling outages impact my monthly bill?
Simply put, if you use more electricity than “normal” you will have a higher bill. Rates have not changed. Think of it as a consistently priced fuel, that never fluctuates in price per gallon. If you need to fill up more often, it will require a larger amount of product, and as a result you have higher costs.

Does it take more energy and cost more to lower my thermostat now, only to raise it later to regain warmth?
This is a myth that many have heard for years. Contrary to belief, your system will operate for longer periods to recover and heat pump systems may switch to supplemental or auxiliary heat, but overall energy use is reduced if the setback occurs over at least a few hours. 

NPPD operators at our control center handle increases and decreases in load and train for these situations. The operators refer to this as the Cold Load Effect. When customers are returned to service from a long outage, there can be a sharp increase in electricity usage that must be accounted for. As motors begin to start when the load is energized and more equipment powers on than was previously when the customer was interrupted. This means, when there are several customers experiencing an outage at the same time, operators need to consider the load when the circuit is restored can be higher than when it was interrupted. The longer a circuit is interrupted, the more pronounced the Cold Load Effect will be.

In the case of this most recent event, homes were using heat so consistently during the day and the interruptions were short enough that there was no significant change in electricity usage when one circuit was brought back online and another was turned off. During the rolling blackouts, when one group of customers was experiencing an outage, a new set of customers would betaken offline before the first group was returned to service. This helped ensure that there were no spikes in electricity usage that would have a negative impact on the generation and load balance. 

Who can I contact for assistance with payment arrangements for my NPPD bill, or information on assistance agencies?
Payment arrangements can be arranged by contacting NPPD at 1-877-ASK-NPPD.

Those in need should also contact NPPD at the above listed number for more information and a listing of energy assistance from local agencies.

What is a rolling blackout outage?
Rolling blackouts, also known as rotating outages, are controlled, temporary interruptions of the electrical service directed by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). These outages can occur when electricity generating resources cannot meet the electricity demand in the region. NPPD and others must reduce demand in an amount directed by SPP and act upon this within minutes.

When is a rolling blackout necessary?
Rolling blackouts are necessary as a last resort to maintain the reliability of the electrical grid system. SPP directs rotating outages when electricity generating resources cannot meet the electrical demand in the region. They rotate or roll to different systems and areas so we can all absorb a short outage at different times versus a long outage for one specific area.

The recent situation was extraordinary and an unprecedented chain of events, including historic low temperatures across the entire SPP footprint, lack of wind generation, reduced amounts of natural gas because of frozen wells and sky rocking natural gas prices. A situation never seen before in this region since SPP was founded.

Why was there little notice before power was shut off to some customers?
Just like many of our retail and wholesale customers, NPPD received the emergency notices from SPP with little warning, requiring us to load shed with just a few minutes to act.

NPPD did our best in this emergent situation to communicate not only to our large industrial and residential retail customers, but also with as many wholesale customers as we could. This was done with a press release, via emails, regularly scheduled wholesale customer meetings throughout the event, and using social media. Unfortunately, with the short timeframe not all customers were able to be reached before some outages began.

We continue to evaluate and review the events of this situation and will look for ways to learn and improve our process, should it ever be needed again.

Is there an easy way to track my energy usage?
Tracking your energy usage can easily be done by downloading NPPD’s mobile application, “NPPD On The Go!”. Download by searching “NPPD” in the Google Play or Apple App store. Then click “Register” and have your account number, service address zip code, and phone number ready. Finally complete the account information.

What are the benefits of using “NPPD On The Go!”?

  • Fast, easy and secure way to view and pay your bill.
  • View monthly usage and comparison to previous usage.
  • Monitor active outages and report unexpected outages.
  • Direct access to customer support through your mobile device.
  • Request new service or stop current service.
  • Sign up for outage, billing, and usage notifications.

Who and what is Southwest Power Pool (SPP)?
NPPD is a member of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), a non-profit regional transmission organization in the central part of the United States. SPP is mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure customers in the region receive reliable power, adequate transmission infrastructure and competitively priced electricity. SPP and its members coordinate the flow of electricity across more than 65,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines spanning 14 states.

Why is it important to have a diverse energy mix?
NPPD believes a diverse generation mix serves our customers best. We use wind -- when it is available. We use coal -- which is reliable and helps keep electric rates low. We use water -- one of the oldest forms of renewable energy. We use nuclear -- which offers emission-free, around-the-clock power. We use natural gas -- to complement the portfolio.

NPPD’s diverse energy generation mix helps keep our electricity reliable and keep rates as low as possible.

Public power, as it always does, answered the call to help protect the bulk electric system which serves the central portion of the country and is part of the larger Eastern Interconnect. The system requires real-time balancing of generation and load. In doing so, we also protected our customers from more detrimental, long-term blackouts.

All of NPPD’s plants were available to SPP during this emergency event. They performed as beautifully during the emergency as our NPPD teammates who worked around the clock to manage the safety, health and financial risk for our customers.