Sandhills Transmission Line Set Back, but Battle May Continue

June 19, 2020, 5:11 p.m. ·

Map of proposed R-Project (courtesy NPPD)

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It looks like the battle over a proposed electric transmission line through Nebraska’s Sandhills will continue, following a court decision that at least temporarily blocks the project.

The so-called R-Project is a 225-mile long transmission line that would run from the Gerald Gentleman coal-fired generating plant near Sutherland, west of North Platte, to Clearwater, west of Norfolk. The Nebraska Public Power District, which proposed the line, says it would enhance reliability of electric service, as well as enabling transmission of electricity from future wind farms. Opponents say its construction would disturb sensitive habitats, and the lines and wind farms would ruin unspoiled views in the Sandhills.

This week, U.S. District Judge William Martinez, in a decision on a lawsuit filed in Colorado, agreed with opponents that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t adequately consider the impact of the line on historic remains of the Oregon Trail, and didn’t take into account the effects of developing wind farms. Therefore, he overturned the permission the Service had issued to NPPD allowing the utility to “take” – that is kill, or significantly disturb – endangered American burying beetles on the route. Nebraska State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, an opponent of the project, hailed Martinez’ decision. Brewer said NPPD would have to start over, and predicted the utility would not get the permit it needs.

“I think it is very, very unlikely that there’ll be a future for the R-Line, which is great news both for the landowners along the R-Line and for those that were going to have to deal with the wind farms,” Brewer said.

But while the current permit has been vacated, the battle over the line has not ended. In a written statement, NPPD President and CEO Tom Kent said the utility will review the decision and decide what to do next, adding “This project is still needed for electric reliability in the state.”