Be There When Lightning Strikes

News

Set your text size: A A A

DUKE WILL LOOK AT ALTERNATIVES TO POWER LINE

Acknowledging an overwhelming wave of concern about the potential impact on tourism and mountain views, Duke Energy announced today that it was delaying the announcement of its preferred route for the 45-mile 230-kilovolt Foothills Transmission Line until early November and looking at alternatives to the power line.

The company also said that it would explore "solutions to as many concerns as we can, including possible alternatives to the transmission line and substation" — a concession that the region's electricity needs could be met in other ways.

“We’re looking at alternatives to that and the substation after looking at all the comments we received,” said Tom Williams, a senior corporate spokesman. “It very well may (happen). We’re not at all suggesting that it may not. We’re just suggesting that we need more time to look at this including these alternatives. There’s a lot to consider.”

The intensity of the opposition, he acknowledged, had played a role in the utility's decision to take more time and potentially develop an alternative to the Campobello substation and high-voltage transmission line through Henderson County.

“I think it’s fair to say we heard from a lot of people,” Williams said. “We asked for input and we certainly got input from a lot of different people. The community meetings were some of the largest I’ve been to. We got a lot of input from folks and we certainly want to consider that.

“The need is real. There’s no question about that,” he added. “The facts are the facts. We need to address this problem over the long term and we’re going to look at long-term solutions. Are there other ways to potentially do it? We’re going to look into that.”

“We’re not going to not retire the coal plant. That’s clearly going to be part of any plan we do,” he said, adding that smaller distribution projects could be part of the solution.

State Rep. Chuck McGrady said he had expected a decision this week but agreed the utility needed more time to digest the enormous amount of input and welcomed its pledge to take a fresh look at other options.

“They’d like to get this thing over with but on other hand they’d like to get it right as opposed to going forward with less than a full understanding of all the implications,” he said.

McGrady said he had no information on whether Duke is ready to drop the transmission line.

“I don’t know," he said. "Certainly that’s an option. Technology is changing really quickly…. I think folks have argued effectively that we may be trying to handle the need for power here in the wrong way. I think that’s resonated some.”

“I’m glad that they’re taking additional time," he said. "They would admit — at least they’ll admit to me — that they never anticipated the level and number of comments and communications that they’ve gotten. They have at every point underestimated the level of engagement, particularly in Henderson County, but also in South Carolina and Polk County.  Henderson County has blown them away.”

State Sen. Tom Apodaca, who early this year encouraged Duke to capitalize on a new natural gas line to convert its Lake Julian coal-fired plant to gas, said he had no inside knowledge either.

“All they told me is they needed till the first of November," he said. "I think it’s significant.”

Does it mean Duke is dropping the power line? “I don’t know,” he said. “I hope they do but I don’t have any information along those lines.”

He said there’s no doubt that the huge volume of comments had gotten Duke's attention.

“When I was speaking to them we talked for 20 minutes and I think they mentioned four or five times the 9,000 responses,” he said. “I think they were struck by that. I think it’s wonderful. I think the people are being heard.”

In a nod to that opposition, Duke's top executive in the N.C. mountains declared in that the utility was listening to the concerns of thousands of property owners.

“Our goal is to have the best possible plan with the least impact on property owners, the environment and the communities we serve,” Robert Sipes, general manager of delivery operations for the Western Carolinas, said in a news release. “Concerns about the transmission line and substation – and the potential impact on tourism and mountain views we all enjoy – are significant.

“We want the thousands of property owners and others to know we are listening, and we very much appreciate their patience,” Sipes added. “The job for the Duke Energy team is to offer solutions to as many concerns as we can, including possible alternatives to the transmission line and substation, while also meeting the region’s growing expectation for cleaner and reliable power.”

Sipes also said that the overall modernization plan is addressing a very real problem that is not going away. Power demand, particularly on the coldest and hottest days of the year, will continue to grow, and the region’s electrical infrastructure must be upgraded to meet that increased demand, it added.

Conservation groups applauded Duke's anouncement.

“Today the voices of thousands of people and organizations across the Carolinas have forced Duke Energy to change course on this misguided proposal, which would have deeply and permanently scarred South Carolina's beautiful Blue Ridge and Piedmont foothills,” Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a news release. “This would not have happened without the thousands citizens and many organizations that made clear our states do not need a massive new 45-mile long power line, a huge new substation, and an expensive oversized gas plant. We hope Duke Energy will use the next month to come up with a modern and affordable alternative as a Thanksgiving gift for the Carolinas.”

“Stepping back from this disastrous transmission line is the right move for the environment and mountain communities,” added DJ Gerken, managing attorney for Southern Environmental Law Center’s Asheville office. “Duke Energy has heard the public outcry – now it’s time to turn that outcry into opportunity by powering western North Carolina with clean, renewable energy instead of an overbuilt gas plant.” 

Duke says that since 1970, peak power demand has increased by more than 360 percent in the western North Carolina region serving 160,000 customers in nine Western North Carolina counties. Ensuring power reliability was particularly difficult during the winters of 2014 and 2015, when peak demand was 30 percent higher than in 2013. Over the next decade, continued population and business growth is expected to increase overall power demand by 15 percent.

The WNC Modernization Project includes the early retirement of Asheville’s coal plant, replacing it with a much cleaner natural gas plant and adding solar generation to the Asheville Power Plant site.

The proposed natural gas plant is expected to produce electricity less expensively than the existing coal plant — which is often dispatched to ensure the region’s power reliability even when it is not economical. These savings will be shared with customers across North Carolina and South Carolina through Duke Energy’s joint dispatch and fuel purchasing agreement. This allows Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress to collectively dispatch power plants and purchase fuel as efficiently as possible. Since the companies merged in July 2012, this has saved customers more than $520 million.

The new gas plant will significantly reduce air emissions and water use at the Asheville power plant site. It also will enable the company to cancel plans for new coal-ash handling systems and a smaller and less efficient oil-fired power plant because these projects will no longer be necessary.

For more information about the Foothills transmission project, see the company’s website at: https://www.duke-energy.com/western-carolinas-modernization/foothills.asp. For more information about the company’s proposals to replace its Asheville coal plant with a cleaner and more efficient natural gas plant and other related projects, see http://www.duke-energy.com/western-carolinas-modernization/

Duke Energy Foothills Project timeline

May 19: Duke Energy announces plans to replace the 376-megawatt Asheville coal power plant and with a new $750 million 650-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant. Duke says it will also spend about $320 million to build a transmission substation near Campobello, S.C., and connect it to the Asheville power plant with a new 45-mile 230-kilovolt transmission line. Although projects are announced at the same time, Duke says later that the transmission line was in the works long before this year’s decision to convert the coal plant at Lake Julian.

Early July: Duke notifies landowners on or near 41 proposed segments for the transmission line. While the right of way is 150 feet, Duke notified landowners within 1,000 feet.

July 14: Duke holds first public input session at WNC Ag Center.

July 21: Duke holds public input session at Landrum Middle School.

July 23: Duke holds public input session at Blue Ridge Community College.

July: Homeowners associations form coalition to oppose transmission line.

Aug. 3: Residents appear before the Henderson County Board of Commissioners to speak against the power line.

Aug. 7: Farmers and farm organizations meet to ask questions and form plans to respond to transmission line.

Aug. 10: N.C. Utilities Commission opens a docket on the transmission line proposal and begins accepting comments.

Aug. 10: The Polk County Board of Commissioners and Saluda Town Commission adopt resolutions opposing the power line.

Aug. 13: Numerous HOAs and residents gather at Trinity Presbyterian Church to hear about plans to oppose a western route of the line crossing Big Willow, Horse Shoe Etowah and Mills River.

Aug. 14: Duke announces it is moving up the decision to choose a route from early 2016 to October of this year.

Aug. 14: Mills River Town Council adopts resolution opposing the power line.

Aug. 24: Fletcher Town Council adopts resolution opposing the power line.

Aug. 25: Hendersonville City Manager John Connet sends letter to Duke saying the central route along an existing 100-kilovolt corridor would be OK. That would “bring the project through the City of Hendersonville but our goal is to protect our scenic vistas and ridgelines,” Connet said. The city also asks Duke to partner on building a greenway along the power line the corridor.

Aug. 25: North Carolina Utilities Commission public staff announces it will hold a meeting in Hendersonville on Sept. 3 to hear comments and answer questions.

Aug. 27: Residents in an overflow crowd at Landrum (S.C.) High School urge the South Carolina Public Service Commission to reject the project.

Aug. 28: Edneyville group releases report advocating running the power line underground. Agribusiness Henderson County, a farm advocacy group, tells Duke that the proposed routes disproportionately affect Henderson County farmers and force them “to bear the greatest burden” in economic sacrifice. U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows tells a Town Hall meeting at BRCC that Duke officials are open to using existing right of way for the transmission line.

Aug. 31: The Flat Rock Village Council adopts a resolution urging Duke “reconsider the need for the proposed electrical infrastructure,” and if found to be needed consider running it underground and, barring that, to consider the impact overhead lines would have on the economy, historic property, scenic beauty and wildlife.

Sept. 3: The Public Staff of the North Carolina Utilities Commission hosts an information meeting during which Duke officials answer questions.

Sept. 8: The Henderson County Board of Commissioners adopts a resolution, drafted jointly by the city of Hendersonville and the county, urging the Public Staff to hire an independent consultant to evaluate the need for the project, urges the use of single-pole structures and cooperation on building greenways.

Sept. 10: Hendersonville City Council adopts identical resolution.

Sept. 24: Edneyville group issues a report challenging Duke Energy’s forecast of electricity demand and questioning the need for the transmission line.

Oct. 8: Duke announces it is delaying a decision on the Campobello substation and high-voltage transmission line until early November and looking at alternatives to the part of its plan that links the Asheville power plant with the South Carolina Upstate.