Community members came together Thursday night to share their ideas about the future of energy in Nebraska.

An event hosted by Clean Energy Nebraska organizations gave them the opportunity to do so.

The event, which took place at Northeast Community College's Lifelong Learning Center, was hosted in order to expand on a previous community conversation hosted in May by the Norfolk Daily News, U.S. Bank and Northeast Community College.

Its topic was also energy.

"It was clear from that meeting that a lot of people who had other things to say wanted to be able to discuss those things, and I think that it's really great to be able to bring people back together to continue that conversation," said Lauren Kolojejchick-Kotch of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons.

About 25 people, including landowners and representatives of energy and wildlife organizations, attended.

Topics ran the gamut during the two-hour meeting. Nebraska's current energy system, renewable energy and energy efficiency were just a few of the subjects touched upon.

But it was concerns about Nebraska Public Power's R-Project that seemed to dominate conversation.

The R-Project is a 225-mile long transmission line that will run through the Sandhills. Its purpose is to improve electric power reliability for the region, relieve congested transmission systems and create opportunities for development of renewable energy generators like wind turbines.

Several attendees voiced opposition to the line because the Sandhills are easily damaged and home to sensitive wildlife.

"There's a lot of ranchers up there with a lot of legitimate concerns for where this thing is going," said Robert Burns of Spalding. "I've been saying this for the last year, that Nebraska Public Power really needed to sit down and negotiate an alternative route."

Burns said he suggested an alternative route, which he contends would have saved money and avoided the wildlife that are at risk.

Duane Hovorka, executive director of the Nebraska Wildlife Federation, also shared thoughts on the R-Project.

"It's certainly something that we're looking at and concerned about in talking to the (Nebraska) Games and Parks Commission, in talking to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to find out what concerns there are with the R-Project, what's the science we've got looking at that," he said. "I know we've got groups for it and opposed to the project. At this point we've still been kind of talking to the wildlife folks because we're trying to find out how big of a concern it is."

Larry Arens, an account manager with Nebraska Public Power District in Norfolk, was taking notes during the meeting to relay to the power district. He encouraged people to continue to try to meet with representatives from the company in order to voice concerns and ideas.

"Like I said, I can't imagine some kind of resolution can't be met," Arens said.

Kolojejchick-Kotch said the discussion brought up a good point about having public power in Nebraska.

"Because we have public power, we should be able to talk about the things we want and see some kind of reaction," she said. "... Public power, in theory, should be something that we can fully engage with through our members, through those board meetings that we can attend and talk about what our issues are."

Based on discussion Thursday, more renewable energy is something many Nebraskans want to see more of.

Josh Moenning, a member of the Norfolk City Council, said he'd like to see more wind energy used in the state, partially because of its ability to create jobs.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Lab, building 1,000 megawatts of wind turbines can create 7,700 full-time equivalent years of employment.

But others in attendance expressed concerns about wind turbines' harm to wildlife, specifically bats, which help rid areas of mosquitoes.

"Wind is really site specific," Hovorka said. "… So there's places in Nebraska that would be really bad for wildlife impact and then there's places in Nebraska that would be low in wildlife impact."

The key is to push for development in places where there's low impact, he said.

Other attendees wanted to see more solar used. Martin Kleinschmit, who owns MarLin Wind and Solar in Hartington, was one of them.

He pointed out that he's seen no impact on wildlife in his use of solar panels.

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