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Power line review 'largely immune from political pressure,' McGrady says

State Rep. Chuck McGrady acknowledges the obvious. A former national president of the Sierra Club and an activist in land conservation efforts in Henderson County for more than 20 years, McGrady would have plunged into the power line debate were he still a local official.


McGrady received a letter from Duke Energy notifying him that “more than one route goes across property owned by me or by family members," he told constituents in a newsletter last week. "So I guess that means that I ‘feel your pain’ if you’re among those whose land potentially lies along one of the potential routes.”
Duke Energy announced in May a plan to spend $1 billion to convert its coal-fired plant at Lake Julian to a natural gas-fueled power facility and to run a high-power transmission line from Campobello, S.C., to the plant. Most of the 40-mile route crosses Henderson County.
A third-term Republican, McGrady broke away from budget negotiations to return home for a meeting Friday of farmers and other agriculture leaders concerned about the transmission line. He said his power to influence the project is limited.
“I think a role for me initially is to lay out the regulatory framework so people can understand how the decision gets made, who makes it, where you have to appeal,” he said in an interview Thursday night.
Some constituents have accused legislators of having passed a law that speeds up the regulator’s review of the transmission line.
“I’ve had a number of people ask whether when we expedited the process for the (power plant) conversion that we expedited the transmission line,” he said. “The answer to that is no. What we were trying to do with the conversion legislation was to deal with the coal ash issue.”
McGrady pointed out that he shares the an interest in the decision that does beyond his public role.
“I’ve got 500 acres in southern Henderson County and the lines run immediately behind by former camp and through my property,” he said. “On other hand, of all the lines that move toward South Buncombe (to the plant), any route you take ends up coming through my district. I couldn’t be much closer to the deal and I’ve got a record of being pretty strong on environmental things and of being not unwilling to challenge Duke Energy so I hope I have some credibility in being a fair arbiter of the issue.”
He’s tried to lower expectations of opponents who want legislators or the county commissioners and town councils to stop the project.
“People are putting pressure on local officials to do something about it,” he said. He’s cautioned city and county leaders not to “make the mistake of overpromising because local government doesn’t have any authority going forward,” he said. “This process is to a large extent immune from political pressure. In theory (state Sen.) Tom Apodaca and I could pass a law that would do away with Utilities Commission’s ability to condemn property, but, come on, that’s not going to happen.”
McGrady has fielded a handful of phone calls and is receiving “a steady trickle of emails,” he said. “These are not emails generated in any sort of form patterns. I take them more seriously because these are people talking about what’s in their backyard.”
McGrady said one thing he can do is put pressure on Duke to follow the process the utility officials have themselves.
“I’m going to be watching to make sure Duke does what it says it’s going to do,” he said. “That is, taking all these comments and sorting them and grade them and rank them. The public has a view that the public input is something that frankly the utilities don’t pay a lot of attention to and is not very responsive to and I try to do my job to make sure they do respond.”