Duke Energy addresses frequently asked questions at BRCC

Published 11:48 am Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Filled to capacity, Blue Ridge Community College’s conference hall was the scene for last week’s eagerly anticipated questioning of Duke Energy officials by the public staff of the North Carolina Utilities Commission. (Photo by Mark Schmerling)

Filled to capacity, Blue Ridge Community College’s conference hall was the scene for last week’s eagerly anticipated questioning of Duke Energy officials by the public staff of the North Carolina Utilities Commission. (Photo by Mark Schmerling)

Duke Energy representatives met with the North Carolina Utilities Commission Public Staff at Blue Ridge Community College in regards to the proposed Western Carolinas Modernization Project.

Approximately 1,000 attendees watched as Public Staff Executive Director Chris Ayers questioned the panel of five Duke Energy project officials for two hours on Thursday, Sept. 4. A public comment period followed and lasted approximately one hour. Duke Energy representatives did not remain on stage at this point, but did answer questions directed to them.

The panel consisted of: Robert Sipes (Western Zone General Manager), Steve Wilson (Planning Engineer), Glenn Snider (Resource Manager), Gail Simpson (Initiatives Manager) and Randy Veltri (Siting Manager). The questions posed by the North Carolina Public Service Utility Commission Public Staff and responses provided by the Western Carolinas Modernization Project panel can be found below:

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When did Duke Energy determine that there was a need for the area?

Steve Wilson – We’ve been considering this since 2008. We really started looking at it more seriously in the second half of last year, when we decided that the load was growing. We had a couple of tough winters over the last two years with the polar vortex events that we had seen, so it heightened our awareness that we need to be able to serve a growing customer load and do it reliably.

What has load growth looked like recently, and what do you expect it to do in the next 5-10 years?

Steve Wilson – There are two general concepts in load growth. One is called peak demand. You can think about really cold mornings or really hot summer afternoons. Peak demand year over year is growing. That’s a little bit different concept than total energy that is being consumed. We have to have enough generation and transmission capability to meet peak demands when stress on the system is the greatest.  The reason a lot of people are here tonight is that this a pretty attractive place to live. We recognize that, and it doesn’t seem like it, but at the end of the day you have to meet that demand. It’s not an attractive place to live if you don’t have reliable electricity.

What problems will the new transmission lines alleviate?

Steve Wilson – This new transmission line will double the importable capacity of the region to 1,200 megawatts. These are mechanical devices. These power plants don’t work 100 percent of the time. You have to have redundancy built in so that if a plant goes offline or needs maintenance during a cold winter event you can still serve that peak. When the plant trips offline, you seamlessly see power come from another part of the region and you don’t lose power on a zero degree-day.

What will happen to excess power?

Steve Wilson – Exporting to North Carolina and South Carolina customers… that type of export will happen on low load days. Even across our weaker transmission we do that currently. Yes, there are conditions where that transmission will be used to bring power to the west. You’re getting the benefits on both parts of the grid. Now, another way that term has been used, is that we were going to use this to make sales to other states. That is absolutely not the case. That has never been presented as a benefit of this project. As a whole, the company has been selling far less than one percent of its total generation out of state, and that’s usually to a neighboring utility when they’re in need. This plant was not designed with anything to do with selling outside of the Carolinas, but it will benefit all of the system within the state.

Which utility customers will bear the cost?

Steve Wilson – The cost will stay with Duke Energy Progress. There is no DEP West and East. We don’t charge rates on a regional basis. The benefits are shared among all Duke Energy Progress customers, as are the costs.

How did Duke identify the transmission paths?

Randy Veltri  – The first phase was determining alternate routes. We took a very broad picture of the study area. We started to collect data from various sources: federal, state and county. We looked at all the homes in the area and chose a path that would avoid as many homes as possible. Obviously, the area is very congested and there are a lot of constraints, but that is just one piece of the data; the other is cultural and natural resources. At that point, what we typically do is start to define a smaller study area. We look at any and all viable routes from point A to point B. The next step was to gain input from the public meetings and comments that we received. You folks are in the local area, and you know the specifics. Your comments are critical in ranking the alternate routes. We truly appreciate all the comments that we received to help us make a decision on the preferred route.

Does Duke take property values into account?

Randy Veltri – We do not take property values into account. What we do take into account is the feasibility of each route, and the land use that we cross, whether its residential or commercial property. We do not specifically take property values as a factor.

Has Duke Energy undertaken an environmental impact study related to the routes?

Randy Veltri – Once a preferred route is selected, we will go through on the ground to collect data on environmental impacts and how to mitigate those impacts. At this level, we do not have the ability to go out there and actually physically survey and get the data.

To what extent is Duke investigating using existing rights of ways?

Steve Wilson – We are always asked to cite along existing transmission lines, and it’s always a high priority. We really try to find as many alternatives as we can to parallel existing infrastructure. Unfortunately, we are limited by the development around those existing transmission lines. Anywhere there’s openings that can parallel existing transmission lines and it’s headed in the right direction, we do that.

When does Duke Energy expect to have a decision on its preferred line?

Robert Sipes – Early October.

When would you file an application?

Robert Sipes – It will be the first of next year. It will take time to development documentation to submit to the commission.

Has Duke Energy investigated the possibility of putting the line underground?

Steve Wilson – We have done some analysis. The reality is that underground technology for bulk power transmission is technically difficult, and requires very talented expertise. We have to look at cost very carefully. We have an obligation to serve our customers economically. Underground is approximately seven times more expensive than overhead. Also, the restoration effort and time to make a repair underground is substantial.

Did Duke Energy examine using existing highways, road corridors?

Randy Veltri – They are opportunity areas for us. We specifically looked at I-26 and met with the DOT about trying to utilize the easement. We decided it was not viable.

Has Duke Energy considered public and wildlife health? How will it play into the route?

Steve Wilson – There has been numerous studies over the last 30 years on that. A combination of these studies have been performed and evaluated and the result of those has been that it is inconclusive. There’s no clear supporting study that shows that there is a health impact. We have horse farms and cattle ranches all over our systems and there have been no reported problems with the livestock being able to cohabitate with the transmission lines. As far as people, one of the things we try to do is stay away from businesses and homes. It’s impossible to stay away from all of that, but it is a high priority.

Has Duke Energy explored using alternative sources such as wind or solar?

Steve Wilson – Renewable energy is one of the fastest growing aspects of our supple portfolio, in terms of where it was 10 years ago. In the Western Carolinas, there are several challenges.  Windmills need wind, and that exists on ridge tops. In North Carolina there is a law that doesn’t allow windmills on ridge tops. When you turn to solar facilities, solar requires a large amount of flat, cleared land. There’s been a lot of solar development, and we are one of the top states in the country in terms of rate of growth in commercial-scale solar.  We’re adding solar at a very quick pace, putting in some of the largest solar facilities in the Eastern Seaboard, but those facilities take a large amount of flat, cleared land.  This part of the state does not lend itself to large, flat, clear and developable land.  The transmission lines actually help import that eastern renewable generation being developed in the state and bring it east to west.  In terms of developing it in the west, it is not practical.

What steps does Duke Energy take to provide accurate maps?

Randy Veltri – The mapping we receive is based on Google mapping and other topography that we get from the counties.  Some of them are a year old. Some of them are two years old. We also get tax mapping data from the counties.

Will Duke Energy be walking the chosen path to make sure it is accurate?

Robert Sipes – We’ve already flown all of these segments. When we select the preferred route we will process that data, and we will have very recent three-dimensional data of the preferred route. That will be a tool used to make sure we are identifying everything that is out there. Then when we select the route and make an announcement we will survey the route.

Gail Simpson – Part of this process is the public comment period, because we know the data is not always 2015 data, and could be a year or more older from the sources that we have available. So the public comment period is to hear from the public for them to identify, and we have receive many comments that we are using in the process to select these routes. We received over 9,000 comments that provided us very specific information. All of that information is being used in our evaluation process before we select the preferred route.

What comes next?

Gail Simpson – As soon as we do select the preferred out, will notify all of the property owners that we reached out to originally, all the property owners within the preferred route and will make the information available on the website. Then, Randy and his team will be conducting and developing the citing report that will be part of the application.