Small turnout for Tryon/Duke Energy meeting

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Only 30-40 local residents turned out for a sit down discussion between Tryon commissioners and Duke Energy’s Craig DeBrew regarding Duke’s modernization plan.

The meeting was vastly different from other meetings involving Duke Energy where up to 1,000 local residents have attended. The majority of the participants during Tryon’s meeting were Tryon City and Tryon Township residents only.

DeBrew was invited by Tryon to explain Duke Energy’s modernization plan on Tuesday, Sept. 15 where he was asked and answered questions from commissioners and the public.

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Why not bury the lines?

One of the big questions to Duke Energy, which was asked by Tryon commissioner George Baker was why doesn’t Duke bury the power lines.

“Besides the cost part, what’s the problem with burying these lines,” Baker asked.

DeBrew said a picture is worth a thousands words. He distributed photographs of a construction project where lines were buried. He said the more voltage, the more technical and expensive the project gets. DeBrew asked residents to envision a trench about 20 ft. or so wide. He said the area has to dissipate heat correctly, have dirt with the correct thermal properties, the humidity has to be right and a certain type of cable is required, saying that one foot of cable to bury weighs 39 lbs.

“Because (the cable) is big you can only transport it on the highway in 2,000 ft. sections,” DeBrew said, “so every 2,000 ft. you have to have a vault to splice the cable.”

DeBrew also said with underground lines, when there’s an issue, and there’s always going to be an issue with power lines, it takes a jackhammer into the concrete to make the repair and the repairs could take weeks. On overhead lines, DeBrew explained, issues like lightning strikes are commonly repaired in half a day. He also said underground lines are normally only done when an overhead line is not a viable option.

Commissioner questions

Commissioner Happy McLeod asked why this project has to scar this beautiful part of creation.

“Isn’t there a way we can go back and lay (the lines) where there is already a scar, for lack of a better word,” McLeod asked.

DeBrew said the center route option does to a great extent what McLeod is asking. He said the existing line, referred to as the Hogback line, crosses a corner of Polk County (approximately four miles) and crosses Upward Road in Hendersonville and continues on.

“So one of the routes we’ve identified does exactly that,” said DeBrew, adding that following existing power line routes is one of the things governmental entities have asked Duke to consider.

McLeod also said one of her concerns is rumors she keeps hearing about the danger of the lines.

DeBrew said Duke has folks working in close proximity to electric fields every day, so it’s a question the industry has had for decades. All studies, he said, say that being around the electric fields is not dangerous. Obviously, DeBrew admitted, there are studies anyone can find online that will say they are dangerous, but there’s no clear study that all the experts will agree that there is an impact.

Commissioner Roy Miller asked why the process of choosing a route was moved up from January 2016 to the first week in October.

DeBrew said the public input really speaks to the quantitative analysis and there were things discovered from the public that Duke Energy did not know when it pulled maps a year ago. One of the most common things Duke has heard from the public, DeBrew said, is the transmission line will be less impactful if it’s built on an existing line. Other concerns are about the viewshed, he said. That will impact the score of the segments, said DeBrew. He said he doesn’t want anyone to think Duke is short-cutting the process by moving up the date, because it has not. He said there’s been a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty with people having to wait until January and real estate sales being stalled, so Duke has brought in more resources in order to expedite the process.

Tryon Mayor Jim Wright asked how many people live in the area that could be impacted by this.

DeBrew said he didn’t have that number with him, but it’s all of Henderson County, a big chunk of Polk County and the northern parts of Greenville and Spartanburg Counties in South Carolina. Duke Energy sent out approximately 3,700 letters to residents who could fall within 500 ft. of any of the proposed routes this summer.

The public responds

Betty Garniss said she worked the public hearing in Landrum where there were 1,000 people attending and 175 people who were not able to get into the meeting. She said during a South Carolina Utilities Commission public hearing, people were sworn in to speak and the hearing was recorded. She stressed that a meeting, not public hearing, in Hendersonville was simply an informational meeting with residents getting a chance to make comments afterwards. She said in western North Carolina, we need a public hearing before the North Carolina Utilities Commission, who will be making the decision.

“With everything everyone is going to suffer from this,” Garniss said, “I think that is the least we can get. We have been really short changed on this.”

She said a lot of people can’t go online to leave comments.

“We need a public hearing (in North Carolina),” Garniss said.

Joyce Kimpton said basically the United States can send a man to the moon and vehicles on Jupiter and Mars but we cannot figure out how to put electricity underground. She said it looks like it boils down to money in Duke Energy’s pockets instead of what is best for the citizens.

DeBrew responded that yes, there is infrastructure underground but the higher the voltage the more expensive it is. He said it is his understanding when Duke submits the application to the utility commissions they will also submit a cost estimate of what it would cost to place that 40 miles or so underground.

Kimpton said DeBrew spoke of shipping the bails of wire on a road and asked why don’t they ship the wire by railway.

DeBrew answered that there’s not a rail service adjacent to the line route.

“Maybe that’s the problem,” Kimpton said.

Kimpton said maybe Duke should be looking at going closer to a rail line instead of going through farms.

Mack Bond said what we’ve ended up with is an issue of public trust and Duke doesn’t have his trust. He said if Duke was really planning to do this, they probably would have mentioned it in one of their annual reports.

“It was never mentioned,” said Bond. “It’s like an afterthought.”

He said Duke even mentioned at one of its meetings that the plan was alluded to in the annual report.

“The western North Carolina modernization project of this scope and money was alluded to,” Bond said, “are you kidding me?”

Either you planned it all along, Bond said, or this is an afterthought and you are going to capitalize on your 10 percent of your capital investment back from the federal government and then ask for a rate increase to boot.

“To me it sounds like a money deal, nothing more,” said Bond. “You’ve got your politicians line up.”

During the town’s regular meeting following the meeting with DeBrew, Wright said he is proud of the board of commissioners and the town for how it handled Duke Energy’s plans.

“We are the only town and only board that listened to Duke Energy and listened to our citizens,” Wright said. “The rest just passed a resolution (against).”

Tryon is the only Polk County local government that has not passed a resolution against Duke Energy’s plans. The Polk County Board of Commissioners, Columbus Town Council and Saluda Board of Commissioners all approved similar resolutions stating their opposition to any transmission lines running through Polk County.

Look for DeBrew’s presentation of Duke’s modernization project and more photographs in Friday’s edition of the Bulletin.