By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN – Bold Nebraska is organizing opposition to a planned transmission line by the state’s largest electric utility in north central Nebraska out of suspicion it’s meant to serve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
They appear to be looking for a bogeyman in the wrong place.
Because in the meantime, the utility is about to begin the process of routing a transmission line that truly would serve Keystone XL — a transmission line of which the head of Bold Nebraska was not aware.
Bur rather than focus on the transmission line that actually will serve the oil pipeline, Bold Nebraska seems more interested in the Nebraska Public Power District‘s plans for a 39-mile, $97 million transmission line from Hoskins to Neligh. NPPD says this line is needed to meet electricity demand in north central Nebraska, but Bold Nebraska recently published a blog questioning the real motives behind the project.
A Bold blogger suggested the transmission line might really be intended to help serve the Keystone XL pipeline, since part of the area is in the same township as a pumping station for the proposed oil pipeline, which has been in limbo for nearly five years while awaiting federal permits.
“Citizens and landowners deserve an honest answer to the question: is the Hoskins to Neligh transmission project being proposed to primarily serve the pipeline?” blogger Ben Gotschall wrote.
NPPD spokesman Mark Becker said Gotschall had already been given an honest answer by a vice president two days prior to writing the blog.
“That is not true,” Becker said.
With a slight caveat: Becker won’t say the electricity that goes through the Neligh transmission line won’t ever serve Keystone XL, if it gets approved and built. By law, public power districts can’t deny service to customers.
But Becker said the transmission line is not being built to serve the pipeline, but because it’s critical for north central Nebraska, where lines were overloaded last summer and a half-dozen diesel generators were needed.
“We were able to generate plenty of electricity. It was the matter of getting it there,” he said. “This line will help that.”
Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, isn’t buying it. Kleeb said that sounds like a logical explanation, but there are alternative routes that would affect less land and impact fewer homes as the chosen route.
“We contend it is to service Keystone XL,” she said. “There are no other projects in that area that would warrant this massive transmission line.”
Kleeb attended a public hearing on the Neligh transmission project Monday night, and said NPPD officials claim the transmission line would also provide opportunities to develop renewable energy projects, although they don’t have any planned.
“She can think what she wants to, but this line was not built for that intended purpose,” Becker said. “It’s for reliability.”
If NPPD is hiding a connection to Keystone XL in the Neligh project, it certainly isn’t hiding a connection to Keystone XL in a separate 22-mile, $18 million transmission project that’s on its agenda Friday. While Bold Nebraska was urging supporters to attend a series of public hearings this week before the Neligh transmission line project is finalized, NPPD’s board of directors prepared to vote Friday on a resolution that would begin the routing process for a different transmission line that would supply electricity to Keystone XL.
The board will vote on a resolution to enter an agreement with TransCanada to build a series of transmission lines to support Keystone XL. TransCanada is the Canadian company that wants to build Keystone XL.
This agreement would replace the 2009 deal NPPD had with TransCanada to build transmission facilities to service the pipeline, whose route has since been revised to avoid the state’s ecologically fragile Sandhills.
The new agreement requires TransCanada to reimburse NPPD all of its costs for the routing process and work on the transmission facilities for both the original and revised route. If the contract is approved, a new routing public process would begin. That process normally takes 12 to 18 months, Becker said.
NPPD normally builds the costs of a new transmission line into its rates, but the board decided to seek reimbursement from TransCanada in this case in part because “it was a company from another country,” Becker said.
“Our board said, ‘How do we make sure we don’t get caught holding the cost of this,’ ” Becker said.
The resolution notes the pipeline project is still awaiting a presidential permit and is subject to a court challenge, but says TransCanada has asked NPPD to proceed with planning its routing “in order to meet the in-service date for this project.”
The NPPD board plans to vote on the agreement at a meeting 8 a.m. Friday, at 1414 15th St. in Columbus.
Kleeb said the contract with TransCanada requires NPPD ratepayers to pay the costs to build “pumping stations” (which help move oil along) for Keystone XL, but Becker said she’s apparently confusing “pumping stations” with “substations” (which transform voltage from a high-voltage transmission line to a low-voltage distribution system).
“We are not building pumping stations,” Becker said. “She really needs to learn more about how electric systems work.”
The transmission line would provide electricity to operate a pump station, however, and the agreement calls for NPPD to build two new substations and expand a third. Three segments of transmission line would be built in the Emmet, Neligh, Clarks and Fullerton areas.
Kleeb said NPPD is paying the costs up front, and she questioned whether NPPD has been reimbursed for the money it spent on the original route. NPPD bought and cleared a site for a substation for the original pipeline route when its approval seemed likely, and still owns that property, Becker said. The new contract requires TransCanada to repay any remaining costs associated with the original route.
“Why they are doing that is beyond any comprehension,” Kleeb said. “We are financing a for-profit company with public dollars.”
She was not aware the agreement includes a transmission line.
“That’s news to us if they are signing a contract on a transmission line,” she said.
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