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Power line foes produce report advocating underground line

An Edneyville-based group opposing Duke Energy’s proposed 45-mile transmission line through Henderson County has produced a seven-page report rebutting the utility’s public statements on the cost and feasibility of running the line underground.

Kaye Caldwell, who owns Clear Creek Cabins in Edneyville, and a group of apple country families and other opponents delivered the paper this week to the Board of Commissioners and made it public. It's called "High Voltage Transmissions Lines in Henderson County: Can They be Put Underground?"
“A bunch of us out here in Edneyville worked on it together,” Caldwell said. “We had everybody come in and fill out the form (for comments to Duke) and we showed them on a map where it would run. They don’t have time (to study it). It’s apple harvest and they’re busy.”
The group decided to independently study the cost and viability of running underground lines, she said. “There’s just so much misinformation out there,” she said. Although Duke contended it had not run underground lines, she cited an October 2013 article “by two of Duke’s senior engineers” in the trade journal Transmission and Distribution World that describes an underground transmission line installation that Duke completed that year. “This line, the Barnard Creek-Town Creek 230-kV underground line, is the same voltage as the line now proposed to be run overhead through Henderson County,” the report said.
“We get information that turns out to be incorrect and we get so much of that,” she said.

“Surely the evaluation of one or more feasible underground routes should be made at the same time as evaluating the overhead route choices,” the report says. “It seems quite unlikely that a route chosen as the best for overhead line usage would de facto be the best for an underground route as well. For example an overhead route may be inappropriate next to I-26 and more appropriate over a granite mountain, but an underground route would be just the reverse. In addition, as we detail below, several underground transmission projects are in process for lines longer than Duke’s planned line. Some have already been completed. These show that such a project is feasible.”
Although the utility will look at the burying the 230-kilovolt line, Duke officials have described the option as more expensive, potentially less reliable and more expensive and time-consuming to fix.
“After we establish the preferred transmission routes, we expect to evaluate the option of an underground transmission alternative,” Duke says. “However, based on past evaluations, underground transmission lines have not proven to be better than overhead transmission lines because of extremely high cost and environmental concerns.”
“Duke’s reasons for not considering an underground option are just not convincing,” the report said, “especially given the level of damage that overhead lines will do to tourism, agriculture, and county property values.
“Underground transmission lines, although mile-for-mile may be more expensive to build, could alleviate the opposition to the above ground transmission line proposed to be built in Henderson County,” the report said. “A likely route for the underground line would be along Interstate 26. This route could save miles of construction expense just because it is a more direct route, about one-third shorter, than some or all of the proposed overhead lines. Interstate-26 runs near the Asheville plant and also near Campobello, SC. However it seems under the current scheme that Duke Energy will not even consider this option. Since they intend to choose the best route for an overhead line first, and have been told they can’t put an overhead line in the highway right-of-way, they are only considering other routes. Only after an overhead route is chosen will they consider the possibility of putting the lane underground. But they may have already eliminated the best route to use for that purpose. Surely, this is an odd way to proceed, choosing the best route for purpose X and then see if you can do purpose Y there instead. This is particularly true when you consider that, according to Dr. Denis Imamovic, Director of Power Transmission Lines at Siemens, buried transmission lines require less than 1/10th the width of the right of way required for overhead lines5 and the associated towers.
“Furthermore, with I-26 scheduled for major widening in the near future, combining that project with putting the line underground may result in a savings in building an underground transmission line.
Underground high voltage lines are currently in use in Tokyo, where a 25-mile 500kV line was buried in 2000, with “zero maintenance issues’: Vermont, where a line was run underwater for 96 miles and is being installed underground for 56 miles; and
New York State, where a 333-mile underground line is planned from Quebec through New York State to Queens by 2018, the report said.
As in Henderson County, residents of New Hampshire opposed an overhead line on the grounds that it would harm tourism and devalue residential property.
“In July of 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a report regarding the proposed 187-mile Northern Pass line in New Hampshire, currently proposed as an overhead transmission line,” Caldwell said. “In evaluating 9 alternative routes involving transmission line burial, the D.O.E. stated that the visual impact of overhead lines, which includes ‘large industrial-appearing lattice structures,’ could negatively impact New Hampshire’s tourism and recreation. And that the proposed overhead route would likely cause the largest drop in residential property values. It has now been noted that the New England Clean Power Line project (underground) has leapfrogged ahead in permitting of the Northern Pass project (overhead) due to the lack of controversy associated with the proposed underground route.”
Duke officials have said they will use existing right of way when practical. In interview this week, Duke spokesman Tom Williams said once it picks a route, the utility will look at the cost and feasibility of running lines underground.
The report by the Edneyville group concludes by urging Duke Energy and the North Carolina Utilities Commission to consider alternatives to overhead lines, including “burying the line adjacent to Interstate 26, as part of the upcoming I-26 widening project… and using existing rights of way associated with current high voltage lines in the area, or other rights of way that have already been established.”
“Since buried lines require a narrower right of way, expanding the right of way could be avoided. Perhaps even lower voltage line rights of way would be usable for this purpose. The option of using the existing right-of-way AND burying the line, while at the same time replacing the existing overhead line with the new underground one would be most attractive. This scenario would minimize damage to Henderson County’s tourism industry, its agricultural industry, and individual property values. Furthermore, instead of damaging the scenic beauty of Henderson County, it would enhance it by getting rid of existing transmission towers.
“These alternatives may be surprisingly cost-effective, given the reduced or even eliminated costs of acquiring easements. Furthermore, a buried line would bring Duke transmission projects into the current century and could create a standard for other scenic areas in our state.”