South Carolinians urge PSC to shut down transmission line project

Published 5:12 pm Friday, August 28, 2015

Spartanburg County Council Rep. Bob Walker addresses approximately 600 sign-toting project opponents seeking their chance to address South Carolina’s Public Service Commission on Thursday evening at Landrum High School for a meeting of the SC Public Service Commission. Estimates were that another 200 waited outside the school’s auditorium. (Photo by Brandon Shanesy)

Spartanburg County Council Rep. Bob Walker addresses approximately 600 sign-toting project opponents seeking their chance to address South Carolina’s Public Service Commission on Thursday evening at Landrum High School. Estimates were that another 200 waited outside the school’s auditorium. (Photo by Brandon Shanesy)

Yielding to the request of thousands, the South Carolina Public Service Commission held a utilities meeting at Landrum High School on Aug. 27, despite the lack of a permit request from Duke Energy regarding the Western Carolinas Modernization Project.

By doing so, the PSC departed from the normal flow of events, and provided a rare opportunity for project opponents to speak out to the entity that ultimately decides the project’s fate.

The Landrum High School auditorium boasts a capacity of 600, yet was not large enough to hold the horde of attendees wishing have their opinions heard. Approximately 200 individuals remained in queue as the building filled to capacity well before the meeting’s 6 p.m. start.

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The PSC commissioners were drilled for four hours through a series of three-minute speeches, and one rendition of “America the Beautiful,” as one speaker used her time to conduct the crowd. They received what was essentially an extensive history lecture in the culture and economics of the Foothills region, as well as corporate ethics.

S.C. Senator Tom Corbin, representing District 5 which includes parts of Greenville and Spartanburg Counties, was the first to take the podium.

“I am not convinced, based on anything that I’ve been told, that this project is actually needed,” said Corbin.

His point of view echoed throughout the comments of speakers who followed.

“The heartburn level has gone astronomical,” said Mike Byrnes who represents Greenville’s District 17.

According to Byrnes, not one of his nearly 40,000 constituents has asked him to back Duke Energy.

“It has no value for us in Greenville County, and I hope that you all recognized that,” said Byrnes in his closing statement.

While the Greenville representatives’ speeches were well received, it was Rep. Doug Brannon, District 38 Spartanburg County, that drew the biggest reaction from the crowd.

“The proposed substation is in my district, and the people that will be impacted are my constituents,” said Brannon.

“There is only one person in South Carolina that benefits from the project,” Brannon said. “He, in fact, has already benefited.”

“He’s the guy that bought the land (for the substation) and sold it to Duke,” he added.

According to Brannon, Duke Energy is required to file a yearly report detailing future plans. The report submitted in September of 2014 did not contain any information regarding the Western Carolinas Modernization Project’s substation or transmission lines.

“How could a Spartanburg County citizen have information to acquire properties in the county that he would sell to Duke Energy for a project that they didn’t even know about,” asked Brannon. “It makes me hesitate to act.”

Brannon touched on the housing market that is currently on pause.

“Just the mention of the project has crushed sales and property values,” he said. “In Spartanburg County, they’re not touching properties because they don’t know where Duke is going.”

“I represent South Carolina. You represent South Carolina. There is no benefit for South Carolina. This project must be stopped,” said Brannon.

Brannon’s remarks were followed by a standing ovation, prompting PSC Chairwoman Nikki Hall to request all applause to be held for the remaining of the meeting.

Glenn English, former CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, focused on the economy.

“While it may be necessary for future Asheville growth, it certainly comes at the expense of South Carolina’s Upstate economy,” said English.

English, like many others who spoke, urged Duke Energy to use existing rights of ways.

“Our economic engine is the beauty of the mountains,” he added.

Landrum resident Madelon Wallace also spoke on the environment, and was the first to give a tear-filled statement.

“For Duke Energy in all its arrogance to sweep in and try to take the environment we worked so hard to protect is not right,” said Wallace. “Our community now stands to lose everything we hold dear.”

Landrum’s mayor, Bob Briggs, followed suit.

“We don’t have an abundance of industry in this area,” said Briggs. “The one thing we do have and promote is a beautiful area.”

Briggs called the project poorly planned, and detrimental to the area’s pristine characteristics.

“The same views that inspired our forefathers and Native Americans before them still inspire us today,” said Briggs.

“I am opposed to anything that would compromise such attributes,” he added.

Deborah Messmer, creator of the petition that currently has more than 5,000 signatures, described the plan as “poorly laid out” and “laughable.”

“The announcement, community meetings – everything – was made to divide our community and it’s not working,” said Messmer.

While many spoke of the beauty of the mountains, an equal amount used their 180 seconds for history.

Dean Campbell, self-described scribe and columnist for the Tryon Daily Bulletin laid out the history of the Dark Corner.

“I’m a story teller,” Campbell said. “I sing a national song of local people.”

“It is impossible to imagine history under these mega-monstrosities,” said Campbell on the 140-foot tall transmission towers.

Campobello resident Kathleen Jennings compared receiving the initial letter from Duke Energy to learning of her son’s leukemia diagnosis.

Jennings purchased approximately 300 acres along Highway 11 to protect the trail of tears used by Native Americans forced westward.

“We are the current guardians of this iconic trail,” said Jennings, “It cries, as I do, to say no.”

“The enemy then is the same enemy of now: greed,” she added.

The accusation of Duke Energy’s greed was a prevalent throughout the speakers’ comments.

“We have to put people before corporate profits,” said Landrum resident John White.

White, like many others who spoke, believe that Duke Energy is constructing the substation and subsequent transmission lines to sell surplus energy nationwide.

Brad Wyche, executive director for Upstate Forever, argued that the project as a whole is unnecessary.

“Duke has put the cart way in front of the horse,” said Wyche. “They are ordering a double cheese whopper and all they need is a hamburger.”

Despite the four hour time limit coming to an end before all of those who had signed up to speak could do so, the message to the PSC was loud and clear.

The residents of the Foothills area will not relent until the project is terminated, or at the very least, existing rights-of-ways are utilized.

Limited audio (featuring ten speakers) from the meeting is available here: