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.
On behalf of a number of Nebraska landowners, we have filed a petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) to issue a supplement to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (“DEIS”) for the Incidental Take Permit (“ITP”) for the R-Project Transmission Line in north-central Nebraska (the “R-Project”). After the publication of the DEIS for the R-Project, significant new information has come to light concerning the R-Project’s impacts on the environment, wildlife, and historic/cultural resources. In particular, an independent expert hired by the FWS to review the DEIS’s assessment of risk to the critically endangered whooping crane—which was conducted by the project applicant, the Nebraska Public Power District (“NPPD”)—has issued a report highlighting significant flaws in NPPD’s risk assessment, which the FWS relied upon in determining that the whooping crane did not have to be addressed as a “covered species” in the ITP. Dr. Davis’s report therefore raises serious concerns regarding NPPD’s analysis of impacts on a highly endangered species that were not addressed (or even considered) in the DEIS. Additionally, recently developed maps identifying the tracts of land that have been reserved for wind development, and new information regarding the relationship between NPPD and wind developers directly contradict NPPD’s summary dismissal of the impacts of wind energy development as not “reasonably foreseeable.” To the contrary, this new information confirms that the impacts from wind energy development are not only reasonably foreseeable, but are, in fact, fully expected and virtually certain to occur. The maps also demonstrate that the footprint of the R-Project has expanded to an extent not contemplated in the DEIS. Finally, new information regarding the R-Project’s impacts to the Oregon-California Trails—in particular, to the final resting place of a group of gold prospectors who were afflicted with cholera and died on their way to California—was never contemplated in the DEIS, nor were any alternatives to avoid adverse effects to the site. Because new information demonstrates that the R-Project will impact the environment, wildlife, and historic/cultural resources to a significant extent not considered in the DEIS, we have asked the FWS to publish a Supplemental DEIS for public comment before it proceeds further in its consideration of NPPD’s ITP application. You can read our letter here.
Whooping Cranes Must Be Protected from R-Project Powerline
Nebraska Sen. Tom Brewer
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; firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628. ❖
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.