Keystone XL fight begins again; electrical competition debated


February 16th, 2017

Proposed route of Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska (Source: TransCanada’s application to PSC)

Pipeline company TransCanada reapplied Thursday for permission to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline across Nebraska. And advocates of electrical deregulation pushed for a bill to allow competition with public power in the state.

Lincoln, NE – The battle over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline route in Nebraska began again Thursday. Concerns over the pipeline’s effect on Nebraska’s land and water have played a major role in delaying the pipeline, which former President Barack Obama rejected in 2015.

President Donald Trump invited TransCanada to reapply, which it did last month. But the company still has to get a route approved in Nebraska. Former Gov. Dave Heineman approved a route in 2013, but the law under which he did so has now been superseded by a requirement that the state’s Public Service Commission must approve it.

TransCanada applied to the PSC for the previously-approved route Thursday. Company spokesman Terry Cunha said it’s still a good project.

“This project is beneficial for all of the U.S. It brings jobs, economic benefits, and it helps move crude oil both from Canada and domestically from the Baaken region to the U.S. gulf coast,” Cunha said.

But Jane Kleeb, president of the Bold Alliance and a leader of the effort to move the proposed route out of the Sandhills and ultimately to stop the pipeline the last time around, said the PSC should realize it’s still a bad idea.

“This pipeline is still crossing sandy soil and they have to look at the soil permeability according to their rules, and the aquifer is in very shallow depth where this pipeline is crossing. And they have to look at the relationship of groundwater,” Kleeb said.

The PSC has up to a year to decide. Meanwhile, Cuna said the company already has the permission it needs from most Nebraska landowners to cross their land.

“We have 90 percent of our easements in place here in Nebraska, 100 percent in South Dakota and Montana, and over the course of the next few months as we work through the PSC process our focus will be on getting the easements we require,” he said.

Kleeb said that’s not enough. “TransCanada might have 90 percent of the easements, but there are 82 landowners that continue to refuse to give up their land, and they are not going to budge,” she said.

Cunha also sought to reassure Nebraskans the pipeline would be safe.

“We’ve been operating a pipeline in here, the Keystone pipeline, since 2010. So we’ve been operating safely in Nebraska now for over six and half years. I think it’s important that we stress that to Nebraskans that our commitment to safety is our top priority and we want Nebraskans to understand that,” Cunha said.

He was referring to a pipeline that was constructed with little controversy in 2009 from near Yankton, South Dakota to Steele City, Nebraska. Kleeb said if the PSC does approve the Keystone XL, that’s where it should go.

“That would mean no Sandhills are crossed. It would mean the shallow parts of the aquifer are avoided. And for us it means no more land is taken out of production, especially using eminent domain for private gain,” Kleeb said.

But Kleeb said rerouting the pipeline would not be a victory.
“The reality is the more fossil fuel infrastructure we build, it locks us into carbon pollution and climate change for the next 50 and 60 years. So we don’t want to see Keystone XL built at all, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that does not happen,” she said.

Cunha said TransCanada hopes to get approvals from both the federal government and Nebraska this year.

“We’ll be focused on those two very important permits. And then once we get those, hopefully we get those this year, we’ll be able to move forward with the project,” he said.

Cunha said ideally, construction would begin in 2018. He said the pipeline would take two years to complete.

Meanwhile in the Legislature, the Natural Resources committee heard testimony on a proposal to allow competition in the retail electricity market. Sen. Justin Wayne said he introduced the proposal in order to start a conversation.

“The market has clearly changed. Our rates – our costumer rates – are not as competitive as they used to be. And instead of it being a reactionary Legislature, I hope that we can be a proactive one to have a big conversation about these issues to make sure that our taxpayers and our ratepayers are not getting hit with unnecessary costs,” Wayne said.

Supporters said electricity has become a regional commodity, and Nebraska needs to adapt. Gary Aksamit, director of an organization named Americans for Electricity Choice, estimated Nebraskans were paying about 2 cents per kilowatt hour more than they would under competition.

Opponents said allowing competition could lead to higher costs for consumers. John McClure, general counsel for the Nebraska Public Power District, said states with retail choice have high costs, while Nebraska has the 15th lowest.

Opposition also came from Robert Hanson, founder and chief operating officer of Monolith Materials, a specialty chemical company currently building a plant near Lincoln. Hanson said Nebraska’s low rates figured heavily into the decision on where to build.

“You should be very deliberate prior to making anything that would shift a stable electric industry. And I would really challenge the proponents to this bill to show how it would save consumers money. We have a saying, ‘You’re allowed to have your own opinions, but you’re not allowed to have your own facts,’” Hanson said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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