A1 A1
Clearing a path for safety

Crews from the Green Tree Co. began trimming tree foliage back and away from power lines in Juniata on Monday and won’t leave the Hastings area until the work is done.

As they came up with a plan earlier this year to hire a contractor to address this community-wide need, city officials referred to this large, tree-trimming effort as a surge.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

A crew from Green Tree Co. of Red Oak, Iowa, cuts tree branches away from power lines Thursday along North Adams Avenue in Juniata.

“There’s a great need, especially in these first areas we’ve targeted for utility lines,” said Lee Vrooman, director of engineering for the city of Hastings. “A lot of those areas haven’t been pruned back for years. For the last three or four years specifically we’ve just kind of hit the hot spots, so to speak — the worst areas. Kind of tree by tree and not an entire, say six- or eight-block area.”

Residents can expect to see an informational flier posted to their doors when workers are scheduled to be working in their area. Some workers may need temporary access to residents’ yards to perform the necessary work.

Scott Wilson, who owns Green Tree, which is based in Red Oak, Iowa, wants landowners to know, especially when it comes to trimming around utility lines, safety is the priority over attractiveness.

“When a storm comes through, you’re going to really wish those limbs were gone,” he said. “In most scenarios you can’t have ‘pretty’ and power. People sometimes take having power for granted until they don’t have it.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Ben Conchola cuts up a tree trunk that was removed by Green Tree Co. of Red Oak, Iowa, Thursday on North Adams Avenue in Juniata.

Green Tree tries to talk to residents beforehand when a large portion of a tree will be trimmed.

“We’re going to go above and beyond to try to appease them as much as we can, but when you’re taking a big chunk of their tree off, off the side of it, it’s hard to appease some people,” he said.

He said Green Tree will be trimming trees along 52 miles of utility lines and 100 miles of streets in the Hastings area.

The city planned for that work to take two summers to complete, but Wilson’s goal is to have it all done by the end of 2020.

The plan is for this surge to lead into a five-year, tree-trimming rotation.

“If we can get on this rotation where we’re not hitting the hot spots and doing targeted areas after five years, it’ll be much better,” Vrooman said.

Local officials joked during Hastings City Council discussions about the need for tree trimming that in some areas of Hastings, the only clearing that has occurred there in recent years has been when tall vehicles pass through — creating a box-shaped hole.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Sonny Conchola with Green Tree Co. of Red Oak, Iowa, cuts tree branches away from power lines Thursday in Juniata.

“There’s a lot of trees that are making it hard for high-profile vehicles to get down some of our streets,” Vrooman said. “There’s also a great need in that area.”

According to the specifics the city gave to Green Tree, trees will be trimmed back 10-12 feet around utility lines, depending on the species of tree and its expected rate of growth. There will also be 16 feet of clearance above the street and 3 feet back of the curb.

A certified arborist is on staff to oversee all tree trimming.

“It’s not going to be a rectangle that you look down the street and you see a rectangle,” Vrooman said. “They’ll trim them appropriately, by best practice.”

Tree limbs near telephone and communication cables won’t be trimmed. Neither will limbs near service wires that connect directly to homes.

The project ultimately will ensure the safety of public and utility crews as well as increase the reliability of utility service during storms. Trimming along streets improves access for high-profile vehicles. Residents won’t be charged any fees associated with tree-trimming work on their property.

For questions or concerns regarding the project, contact the Hastings Utilities Department at 402-462-3632 for the work being done near city power lines, and the Hastings Parks and Recreation Department at 402-461-2324 for work being done along the streets.

Halloran, colleagues request improving long-term care COVID policy

Hastings Tribune

State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings is encouraging Gov. Pete Ricketts to make a policy change regarding management of positive COVID-19 residents in long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

Halloran, who represents Legislative District 33, wrote a letter dated June 1 and was joined by 24 members of the Legislature — 22 who co-signed the letter and two who asked to have their names added after the letter was sent, he said in a news release Friday.

The letter urges the governor to require that positive cases in long-term care facilities and nursing homes be relocated, quarantined and cared for in facilities separate from the nursing home and long-term care facilities. The letter states that the goal should be to keep positive COVID-19 cases away from the vulnerable community so they don’t put the other residents at risk of contracting the virus.

According to Halloran, current policy requires that positive cases remain in these facilities.

“Long-term care facilities are managing to cope under the current circumstances, but they are not designed to handle a pandemic of a contagious virus,” he wrote.

He wrote about half of the state’s deaths from COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease, have involved care facilities.

“Hospitals are not ‘overwhelmed’ with COVID-19, but nursing homes and long-term care facilities are being overwhelmed,” Halloran wrote. “Nebraska’s elderly are not expendable!”

During Ricketts’ news conference on Thursday afternoon, Dr. Gary Anthone, chief medical officer and director of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health, said 98 deaths out of the first 195 related to COVID-19 in the state had been residents of long-term care facilities.

As of Friday evening, NDHHS was reporting 216 deaths related to the disease now have occurred statewide.

Anthone said 126 facilities in the state, about 25% of the total, have had either staff or residents test positive for the coronavirus. Five hundred thirty-three residents of such facilities and 440 staff members had tested positive.

During the last two weeks, he said, the number seemed to be slowing down with only 16 facilities reporting positive tests for residents or staff. Forty-three residents of long-term care facilities and 54 staff members tested positive in the last two weeks.

Given the decline, Anthone said, officials are preparing for the next step.

“We are working on a plan to start reopening phase for long-term care facilities,” he said.

Halloran wrote that he has additional concerns if the governor is considering removing current restrictions in place in long-term care facilities because it would put the vulnerable population in more potential danger of contracting the coronavirus.

Halloran wrote that his letter to the governor was hand-delivered on June 1, but he hasn’t yet received any correspondence from the governor, his staff or potentially affected state agencies.

During soft market, HU looking at future of energy production

As utility organizations deal with a soft electric market, Hastings Utilities is working on an integrated resource plan to prepare for the future of energy production in Hastings.

Utilities Manager Kevin Johnson and Derek Zeisler, HU director of marketing and energy, spoke about those plans and challenges at the Hastings Utility Board meeting Thursday.

Johnson said the consultant working on the integrated resource plan has provided analysis on several different scenarios with utilization of current HU assets for electric energy supply and potential assets for electric energy supply, such as additional purchase power agreements.

Johnson’s understanding is that the consultant took 10 scenarios and narrowed them down to a top four.

“Our internal staff will then take this information — both the analytics on the 10 scenarios and the analytics on the four scenarios — and then put our own experience and mindset and understanding of our market, our load, our city needs, our city projections, and come up with a recommendation,” he said.

He didn’t think this would be completed by the deadline to complete the 2021 budget.

Johnson expects to come back with strategic plans that need to be implemented in three to five years on energy sourcing assets.

The next draft of the integrated resource plan is scheduled to be completed the week of June 22.

Zeisler said the average locational marginal pricing — the cost to buy and sell power at different locations within wholesale electricity markets — has declined in recent years.

“We’re seeing that soft market again in 2020,” Zeisler said.

As a generator, Hastings Utilities prefers to see higher LMP prices. However, as a buyer of energy from the market for the city, there’s benefit to lower prices.

“Ultimately the integrated (Southwest Power Pool) market is doing exactly what it set out to do, which is lower that LMP cost for its customers,” Zeisler said.

He said wind power is a big driver of LMP pricing.

At times during 2019, nearly 70% of the SPP generation was coming just from wind.

When there is wind generation, Whelan Energy Center production is at a minimum.

Whelan Energy Center No. 2 was placed in market status early in 2020, waiting for the Southwest Power Pool to need electricity generated by the nine-year-old, coal-fired power plant east of Hastings. It didn’t get called back up until the first week of June.

The Southwest Power Pool, which is based in Little Rock, Arkansas, manages the electric grid and wholesale power market for the central United States.

“We’re fortunate as far as COVID that we’re in the middle of the country and we seem to be less affected than some of the coasts, but they still believe we’ve seen anywhere from 5% to 8% decrease in demand over the SPP market due to COVID,” Zeisler said, referring to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.

The wind capacity continues to grow in the SPP market.

Zeisler said there are 8 gigawatts of additional generation, primarily wind, coming into the SPP market in 2020 and 2021.

The high mark for SPP electric consumption in 2019 was 50 gigawatts. The Southwest Power Pool has more than 90 gigawatts of capacity.

Zeisler said there currently is also 80 gigawatts, most of which is renewable, planned for the SPP market in the next 10 years.

“We’ve got way more in the queue than what we currently peak at,” he said. “A lot of it comes right back to the capacity. When you don’t have reliable capacity like you get from a gas, nuclear or coal unit, you have to make it up with quantity. That’s what we’re starting to see.”