Articles and Facts

Preserve the Sandhills believes in educating and learning about how transmission lines, wind farms, solar farms, hydrogen and/or biomass will affect you and the area that you live in.

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Senator Tom Brewer

43rd District

4-19-2019

This week my priority bill, LB 155, was again debated on the floor. Senator Rob Clements was very generous and used his priority designation on my bill. After this bill failed to advance the first time we debated it in February, things looked grim. The action Senator Clements took brought the bill back to life. This almost never happens. I cannot thank him enough. I must also recognize the many concerned Nebraskans from all over our great state who steadfastly supported this effort through telephone calls, emails, in-person visits to the Capitol, and their stories about why they want to preserve their property rights and their way of life.

 

Right now, there is a sentence in Nebraska law stating that connection to a privately-developed wind energy facility is a “public use.” This special status gives wind energy developers access to the government power of eminent domain. It allows them to use a state agency like NPPD to forcibly seize private property from their neighbor to build power lines to connect a wind farm to the power grid. This sentence in the law is an absolute statement and cannot be challenged in a courtroom, regardless of the evidence.  

Originally, LB 155 did away with private wind energy’s “public use” status entirely by deleting that sentence from the law. Unfortunately, the bill faced significant opposition the first time it was debated, and we fell two votes short. A filibuster was planned for this latest round of debate. Wind energy still enjoys considerable support in the Legislature, so I could not put together enough votes to fight the filibuster head-on. I was facing a battle I could not win, so I had to find a different option. After numerous meetings with opponents and with allies, we put together an amendment to the bill.

With the amendment, there would still be a statement in the law about connection to wind and other renewables being a “public use.” But this statement would no longer be absolute.  With the change in the amended version of LB 155, a landowner would be able to challenge the use of eminent domain in court. If the bill is made into law, the landowner would be able to ask the judge to decide whether or not a certain project was really for a public use. Now, using eminent domain to build feeder lines will be a little less certain for the wind energy developers. Our hope is to keep them at the negotiating table trying to cooperate with landowners instead of just counting on the courts to force their hand. It is not a silver bullet, but this bill unlocks a door to the courthouse that was shut to landowners before. 

Making concessions is something no one enjoys doing. In politics, they say “you can have all of nothing or part of something.” Without this compromise, another defeat would have been a certainty. After three legislative sessions and over two years of fighting, we won a victory for private property rights today. LB 155 advanced this week on a 40–1 vote. To my knowledge, this is the first time the legislature has ever pushed-back on wind energy, and it will not be the last.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at tbrewer@leg.ne.gov, mail a letter to Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1423, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or call us at (402) 471-2628.

 

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Whooping Cranes Must Be Protected from R-Project Powerline

Nebraska Sen. Tom Brewer
District 43
December 14, 2018

My legislative aide and I drove to Denver to visit with the Mountain-Prairie Regional Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently. I wanted to ask them questions about NPPD's ill-conceived R-Project powerline that is planned to tear through the heart of Nebraska's Sandhills so a handful of people can make money off a terribly flawed government program.

I was told by Noreen Walsh, regional director, and her chief biologist that there was "no reasonable expectation of take for whooping cranes" for NPPD's R-Project power line. This is government speak that means: Probably not going to kill whooping cranes. This turned out to be a false statement.

The R-Project had to undergo an Environmental Impact Study ran by USFWS. Analyzing the impact the project has on threatened and endangered species is one of the things the EIS has to do under federal law. During this process it was determined by USFWS biologists that there was a "reasonable expectation of take" for the North American burying beetle, an insect on the endangered species list. Consequently, NPPD had to apply for an Incidental Take Permit. This acts as a license from the federal government for someone to accidently kill (take) wildlife that is on the endangered species list.

The impact the R-Project has on whooping cranes was also part of the EIS. It used very old and sparse data. Using this old data USFWS biologists concluded there was "no reasonable expectation of take for whooping cranes." Several months ago, a "new" study, that was partially funded by the USFWS, was brought to light. This study involved over 50 individual birds fitted with GPS trackers. The resulting data set was new, large and detailed. The biologists analyzed the data and even obtained an independent review from a wildlife biologist at Oklahoma State University. They concluded the "new" data definitely demonstrated there was a reasonable expectation of take (would likely kill) migrating whooping cranes. There are only about 450 birds left. So the question is why is the regional director of the Mountain-Prairie Regional Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refusing to use this data? Why is her chief biologist saying the "science was bad" when several other USFWS biologists and an independent review all say this study was the best available science? Why were the two USFWS biologists stationed in Nebraska, who have lead the project from the start, suddenly removed from the project when this new data came to light? Also, why is USFWS in Denver willing to ignore Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act by not including the new data in this study? Furthermore, why is NPPD unwilling to use the best available science to protect our endangered species?

I made a two-day trip to Denver, and met face-to-face with these government officials to learn answers to these questions. I was not satisfied with their answers, so I spoke in a conference call with Margaret Everson, the acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C. On this call, the regional director in the Denver Office (Walsh) may have been less than honest with Everson. She said her office was considering the new whooping crane telemetry data when just a week ago, she told me to my face in Denver her office was not considering this data and that it was "bad science." Has she changed her mind?

The bottom line is NPPD's R-Project power line could follow another route that doesn't pose a threat to endangered species and we could avoid all these problems, but they refuse to change it. I have been misled every step of the way and I am sick of getting the run around. I am forced to continue up the chain of command. I will travel to Washington, D.C., to speak with the secretary of the interior before the session starts. At the very least, NPPD could do the right thing and insist the whooping crane be made the subject of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Study to their project.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628. ❖

 

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Industrial Energy Development

 

The R-Project has been stated that its main purpose is to relieve congestion on the grid and provide sustainability.  It has also been stated that it will encourage industrial renewable energy, in the form of wind and solar, in rural areas of Nebraska. 

Under the current Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) being reviewed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, NPPD has stated that only one (1) interconnection agreement for industrial wind energy is being considered. 

In reviewing the Southwest Power Pool’s future interconnection queue, we note that there are five (5) industrial wind facilities that are being proposed once the 345,000 volt R-Project transmission line is constructed.  The importance of this number is that NPPD does not acknowledge the entire impact that their line will have in the State of Nebraska.  They have narrowed it down to one, which is the Thunderhead industrial wind facility in Holt County, Nebraska.  The DEIS has a provision that specifies ‘Cumulative Impact.’  This should include all of the proposed facilities currently in the Southwest Power Pool queue, not just the ones that NPPD wants them to consider.  The ‘Cumulative Impact’ of all of the industrial wind facilities, and those that follow once the door is opened, will forever change the face of rural America in Nebraska. 

Rural Nebraska is known for its beauty in the plains.  To deface it with enormous wind towers ranging from 400-600 feet tall, massive solar arrays and huge transmission towers, would be an insult to what Nebraska and Nebraskans are truly about.