21 September 2011

Power Facilities Development in West Custer County

Information found on the web indicates plans for development of power facilities in western Custer county.

A transmission substation and distribution lines will be built in the area, according to an agreement between BP Wind Energy North America Inc. the Nebraska Public Power District and the Southwest Power Pool, Inc. The "generator interconnection agreement" for the Broken Bow South substation was dated May, 2011.

The document also indicated that: "BP Wind plans to construct a 75 MW wind generation facility, which will consist of fifty General Electric 1.5 MW wind turbines." The following diagram indicates the facility, and was included in the agreement document (No. 2220).

The turbine facility was being developed in the playa wetland in the county westward of Merna. The original intention was to develop the facility and sell the power to NPPD. The power district instead selected a turbine facility that is now nearing completion in eastern Custer County.

When NPPD decided on the east Custer site, a representative said the site west of Broken Bow was eliminated since whooping cranes regularly migrate through the area.

Whooping Crane migration corridor through Nebraska. Courtesy image.

The numerous playa wetlands provide optimum seasonal roost sites for these endangered cranes, as well as a large number of other bird species.

Changed Situation

There are two notable changes which apply to this situation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently evaluating a "Habitat Conservation Plan" for a multi-state region.

"A primary goal of the HCP is to develop a consistent, systematic, and predictable approach for wind energy development while supporting the conservation of certain species. The objective of the EIS is to evaluate the potential impacts that would result from the proposed HCP and associated Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for potential species take associated with construction, operation, and maintenance activities associated with multiple commercial wind energy facilities within North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas." FWS summary document

An incidental take provision would allow the "taking" of endangered species such as the Whooping Crane, as well as threatened species and species in need of conservation, such as the Lesser Prairie-Chicken. Species Take Avoidance Measures are also being considered.

A second pertinent item is recent legislation passed in Nebraska which allows power from wind turbines can now be exported from the state, so a local power district does not have to be the purchaser. For example, a project could be built and the power sent elsewhere, without the involvement of NPPD or OPPD.

BP Wind still has the agreements with some landowners in the area, which would allow placement of turbines on their property. The meteorological stations installed by BP Wind to evaluate the wind resource, are still in place.

Pending Turbine Farm

Is there a turbine farm looming in the future for western Custer county? The pending availability of a power substation and transmission line indicates there is going to be additional power generation in the area, since more infrastructure is being created.

Adding additional facilities indicates greater power generation and the means to transfer it to where needed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have recognized the playa wetlands of Custer county as a locale of significance which should not be used as a wind turbine facility.

However, information indicates BP Wind is still working to develop wind power facilities. The documentation also indicates continued interest in placing fifty turbines among the wetlands.

If incidental take of endangered species such as the Whooping Crane is allowed, this may tip the balance as regards the occurrence of this species in west Custer County. And if the power was exported elsewhere, local power districts could say they are not directly involved, and thus not have to answer to local opposition to any turbine project.