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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Duke not too big to listen

The announcement Wednesday that Duke Energy had pulled the plug on a 40-mile transmission line through Henderson County as part of its Western Carolinas Modernization Plan marked a logical end to a saga that has gripped the southern mountains for 120 days.


Big Power proved it was not too big to listen. For that, Duke Energy deserves credit and it deserves gratitude.
“The process worked,” Lloyd Yates, president of Duke Energy's Carolinas Division, said during a news conference. “We listened and responded to more than 9,000 comments and we really appreciate the strong interest from the communities in this important project.”
On July 21, just three weeks after Duke first notified property owners along proposed corridors, few people noticed Yates sitting in the second row of the Landrum (S.C.) High School auditorium, which was filled to the gills while 200 more people stood outside. It would have been impossible for the power company executive to miss the passion and anger of the audience or the speakers’ determination to fight.
Things got no better.
By the time summer drew to a close, the roar of disapproval had issued from every town, from businesses and farms, from tourism and environmental organizations and from homeowners groups and coalitions of homeowners groups.
As we’ve said in these columns before, the withering power of Henderson County landowners faced with a disruptive land-use has defeated many a Goliath before now.
“Growing up here, I don’t ever remember having a truly unanimous collection of the community in outright opposition to something,” said Mark Stierwalt, regional director for the environmental watchdog MountainTrue.
Given the whole of this landscape, it wasn’t surprising that Duke threw in the towel. The writing was on the wall five weeks ago when the power company tore up its  timeframe for unveiling a preferred transmission line corridor, pledging, in a significant concession, to look at other options.
Even before they acknowledged it publicly for the first time during Wednesday’s news conference, high ranking power company executives had privately conceded to elected officials that the intensity, volume and depth of the opposition had stunned them. Duke did what smart companies do when they roll out a lemon of a product. They pulled it off the shelf.

Customers in homes and businesses can express their thanks by cooperating with Duke's goal of reducing energy consumption and helping to manage peakload demand.


No one was ready on Wednesday to canonize the electric company for reversing a decision that had delivered 18 weeks of anxiety. The utility itself had plenty of reasons that go beyond preserving mountain views.
Duke Energy is an investor-owned corporation, after all. It’s active politically (through its PAC). In North Carolina the old Duke Power has always enjoyed a deserved reputation as a progressive company and a good corporate citizen. It risked that reputation — and invited the ire of shareholders and lifelong enmity of Blue Ridge Mountains ratepayers— if it bulled ahead on a long and costly regulatory and legal fight.
Duke did the right thing, for its own sake and for the economy, culture and natural beauty of the Blue Ridge foothills. The process worked. The people spoke. Duke listened. It's amazing how well that can work.