Duke Energy’s modernization project faces growing opposition

Published 8:00 pm Thursday, July 30, 2015


By Brandon Shanesy


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Duke Energy’s recent open-house style meetings conducted in July aimed to create calm in a storm of concerned Western Carolinians and accomplished the opposite.


Many people left the meetings with more questions than they came in with and are turning to organizations that are springing up online to unify and speak out.


The change.org petition created shortly after Duke Energy announced the Western Carolina Modernization Project held approximately 1,000 signatures heading into the third and final meeting in Fletcher.


The petition calls for Landrum, Campobello and Polk County elected officials to oppose the modernization project and has nearly tripled in size after the final meeting with 2,900 signatures.


The Western Carolina Modernization Project has become something that everyone knows about thanks to groups like Foothills Preservation Alliance, online at www.foothillspreservationalliance.org and on Facebook.


The FPA came together as a group of neighbors and has now grown into a large network of neighborhood associations and concerned citizens. Their mission is to educate Duke Energy on the two key areas of impact.


Landscape Preservation/Aesthetics


The FPA and many others feel the power lines will be detrimental to the area’s most abundant natural resources, the view and aesthetics.


No matter which of the 37 possible routes Duke Energy chooses, the power lines will inevitably cut through the mountains in order to reach a power plant just outside the city of Asheville.


White Oak Mountain Group has created a 3D video tour that shows the impact that the lines will have from a visual standpoint. The video, which can be found at www.facebook.com/WhiteOakMountainAssociationIncwoma, shows a few of the potential lines and how they will be viewed from various locations.


“I find it ironic that Duke Energy has created this project in the name of reducing their environmental footprint,” said Campobello landowner Talmadge Henderson. “This will be a scar ripping through the foothills, not a footprint.”


‘Scar’ is a word many are using to describe what comes with power lines of this magnitude. A 45-mile long, 150-foot wide strip of cleared land accompanies the 140-foot towers. Approximately 1,000 feet separates each tower.


Henderson and many others who also received letters informing them that they are within 500 feet of a potential route are requesting that Duke look into burying the lines. While Duke Energy has buried power lines in the past and stated that they will consider the option in the Western Carolina Modernization Project, they have expressed little interest in doing so.


Taken from the project’s online FAQ section, Duke Energy states, “…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.”


Economic Impacts


Fear of a negative economic impact has already come to fruition. Madelon Wallace, co-owner of Walker Wallace & Emerson Realty, has already seen potential house buyers stop pursuing due to the looming transmission lines.


Once the power line is finally constructed property values will undoubtedly drop, according to Wallace.


High-value homes see a disproportionally large decrease in value.


“In some cases it kills the value,” said Wallace, “Who is going to buy a million dollar house with something like that 300 or 400 feet away from it?”


Wallace is proud of the economy based on aesthetics built by the foothills community over the last few decades.


“We don’t have manufacturing here, we have open space. People live here because they want to, not because they have to,” said Wallace.


Talmadge Henderson’s home is surrounded by horse pastures and is less than a mile from the 500-kilovolt transmission substation in Campobello. It is also in the path of line 2A.


“I would certainly second-guess my decision to retire here knowing what I know now,” Henderson said.


Wallace fears a long-term, trickle down effect that starts with retirees like Henderson looking elsewhere to do so.


“We have many non-profits that need support, and get that support from retirees who are very active in the community,” Wallace said. “It becomes a downward spiral.”


The Western Carolina Modernization Project has recently landed Duke Energy in court. Campobello resident and attorney, Patrick Knie, filed a petition on July 21 to the Spartanburg County Circuit Court relating to his property that is located within 1,000 yards of the proposed substation’s location.


Knie is requesting access to the architectural, engineering and mechanical planning documents regarding the Foothills substation, as well as any proposed power lines within five miles of their property.


He expects a plethora of petitions and eminent domain lawsuits to spring up from the community over the coming years.


Initial Survey Period Ending


The comment period set in place by Duke Energy will come to an end on August 16. Duke Energy will then compile the feedback received and come to a decision.


Rebecca Barns, a Foothills Preservation Alliance founder, feels that the project is being rushed.


“A proposal like this that has as much economic impact as this deserves really in-depth study and education on both sides. This ‘rush to judgment’ is not only unjustified but it has the potential of producing decades of adverse economic and aesthetic impact that could have been avoided or minimized by careful, unbiased study of data and facts,” said Barns.


In turn, the Foothills Preservation Alliance has requested that Duke Energy extend the comment period beyond August 16.


Comments can be made on the interactive map located at www.dukeenergyfoothillsproject.power-viz.com.


Questions can be directed to Duke Energy’s dedicated project line at (800) 828-9359 or submitted by email to WCTransmissionEnhancements@duke-energy.com.


An informational meeting will be held Friday, August 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Gowensville Community Center located at 14186 Highway 11 in Campobello. The meeting is geared for those who have either not heard of the substation and transmission line proposals or if they have heard, may have questions regarding the modernization project. Contact Terry Schager at tschager@peoplepc.com for more information on that meeting.


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PHOTO:  A screenshot of an interactive map found on Duke Energy’s project website, dukeenergyfoothillsproject.power-viz.com.