Transmission lines are the necessary connection between electric generators and local distribution systems (see diagram). They bring electricity at high voltage levels from power plants, which often are located far away from cities and communities, to the local electric distribution networks that serve customers.
Nebraska has thousands of miles of transmission lines. They operate as a connected system, which increases reliability and lowers costs. If one generator or line experiences problems, power can be rerouted across other transmission lines to keep your lights on and your equipment operating. The in-state network of transmission lines allow Nebraska’s utilities to deliver power to each other as needed.
Nebraska’s transmission lines also connect our state to a broader network of regional transmission systems, through which Nebraska’s utilities buy and sell electricity to other utilities. Being part of this larger network also helps keep electric costs down and reliability high. When other states have surplus electricity, they can sell it to one of Nebraska’s utilities and move that power through an interconnected system of transmission lines. During the course of a year, Nebraska’s utilities sell excess electricity to other utilities within Nebraska, in Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota, as well as a federal power marketing association. And, during a typical year, Nebraska’s utilities will buy power from those other entities when it makes sense to do so.
As Nebraska’s cities and rural areas continue to grow, new transmission lines are needed to ensure continued electric reliability. OPPD’s Southeast Sarpy project, LES’s Central Lincoln Reliability Project, and NPPD’s South Sioux City project are being undertaken to meet growing electric demand and continue to provide highly reliable electric service for all customers.
Transmission lines in Nebraska and across the region also play a critical role in bringing more renewable energy to you. Large renewable energy projects like windfarms typically are located in rural areas. Before we can transport renewable energy to customers, we need to make sure we have enough capacity on our transmission lines.
For example, NPPD’s Broken Bow transmission project will bring renewable energy from the planned 80 MW Broken Bow windfarm to NPPD’s existing transmission system, where it can be delivered to customers.
Transmission lines are like major highways—they have only so much capacity. And today, utilities around the country are facing the need to build more transmission lines –partly to bring renewable energy to customers but also to increase the reliability of the transmission grid and meet the growing electric needs of their customers.
Customer usage of electricity continues to increase, driven by widespread use of consumer electronics like big-screen TVs and gaming systems as well as rechargeable equipment like laptop computers and mobile devices. Also, more Nebraska homes have central air conditioning today, which drives up average electricity usage. Add it all up and you can see why electricity usage in the average Nebraska home has increased, which requires the construction of new transmission lines.
In recent years, we have seen the potential consequences of a transmission system that lacks sufficient reliability. In August 2003, about 55 million customers in the Eastern U.S. and Canada were plunged into darkness after a large transmission line in Ohio failed. Several years before that, in August 1996, tens of millions of customers in 13 Western states and Canadian provinces lost power during the summer after transmission lines failed in Oregon.
Fortunately, those events did not affect Nebraskans. But these events show that our nation’s electricity supply and delivery systems depend on each other. Far-away problems could have close-to-home consequences.
After these major blackouts, federal energy regulators issued a number of new regulations regarding transmission lines. Regional transmission organizations (RTOs) were established with the authority to operate regional transmission systems to ensure that electricity is delivered reliably.
Across North America, utilities are working to improve the transmission system. Customer growth and a dramatic expansion of renewable energy projects, coupled with the great difficulty in building transmission lines, are straining the nation’s electric grid.
Building new transmission lines is costly, controversial, and time-consuming. It takes years, sometimes decades, to obtain the required environmental assessments of a proposed transmission line. Organizations and individuals who oppose a proposed transmission route can lengthen the process by litigation.
Despite the difficulty of building transmission lines, Nebraska’s publicly owned utilities follow a public outreach process to gather stakeholder input prior to making any decisions about where a proposed transmission line should run.
Nebraska’s customer-owned utilities want to build new transmission lines to ensure high electric reliability for their customers and to bring on new renewable energy resources like windfarms. Some have said, “People who love renewable energy need to make peace with transmission lines.” We think there’s a lot of truth in that.