Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) on Oct. 8 said it is extending its review process until early November of its proposed 230-kV Foothills Transmission Line and Campobello substation in order to consider the more than 9,000 comments received related to the siting of those facilities.
The company noted that it is looking at all options that can meet the region’s power demand over the next 10 years to 15 years, including possible alternatives to the line, substation, and configuration of the proposed Asheville natural gas power plant.
Concerns about the transmission line and substation – and the potential impact on tourism and mountain views – are significant, said Duke’s Robert Sipes, general manager of delivery operations for the Western Carolinas, said in a company statement.
“We want the thousands of property owners and others to know we are listening, and we very much appreciate their patience,” Sipes said in the statement. “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.”
According to Duke Energy’s website, the company is investing about $320m in the transmission system in the Western Carolinas. In addition to the construction of the new line and substation, upgrades to existing transmission and substation facilities will help overall system reliability and provide a more robust path to move power across the region, the company said.
Of the Foothills line, Duke Energy said that the new approximately 45-mile line will be built from the planned Foothills substation located near Campobello, S.C. and connect to the Asheville Plant outside of Asheville, N.C. The line will be double-circuited and will potentially cross Polk, Henderson and Buncombe counties in North Carolina, and Spartanburg and Greenville counties in South Carolina, Duke Energy said.
Of the Foothills substation, the company said that the new 500-kV transmission substation is planned near Campobello, in Spartanburg County, and will be located off Highway 26, adjacent to an existing Duke Energy transmission corridor. Duke Energy said that the new substation and transmission line will improve the connection between the Duke Energy Progress and Duke Energy Carolinas systems, allowing the company to import and export more affordable generation and increase the electric capacity to serve customers in the region.
Construction at the substation is scheduled to begin in spring 2016, the company said, adding that the entire project is scheduled to be completed in summer 2019.
A company spokesperson told TransmissionHub on Oct. 8 that the company has not yet filed any application seeking approval for the project.
“We’ll have our plan refined early next month and we’ll be able to give more firm dates on our schedule” then, depending on what the company decides to do, the spokesperson said.
Sipes said in the statement that the overall modernization plan is addressing a real problem that is not going away.
Power demand will continue to grow, and the region’s electrical infrastructure must be upgraded to meet that increased demand, Duke Energy said. Since 1970, peak power demand has increased by more than 360% in Duke Energy Progress’ western region, which serves 160,000 customers in nine western North Carolina counties, Duke Energy said, adding that ensuring power reliability was difficult during the winters of 2014 and 2015, when peak demand was 30% higher than in 2013. Over the next decade, the company said, continued population and business growth is expected to increase overall power demand by 15%.
That effort includes the early retirement of Asheville’s coal plant, replacing it with a natural gas plant and adding solar generation to the Asheville Power Plant site, Duke Energy, said.
The proposed natural gas plant is expected to produce electricity less expensively than the existing coal plant, the company said, noting that the savings will be shared with customers across North Carolina and South Carolina through Duke Energy’s joint dispatch and fuel purchasing agreement. That allows Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress to collectively dispatch power plants and buy fuel as efficiently as possible, Duke Energy said, adding that since the companies merged in July 2012, which has saved customers more than $520m.
The new gas plant will reduce air emissions and water use at the Asheville power plant site, and it will enable the company to cancel plans for new coal-ash handling systems as well as a smaller and less efficient oil-fired power plant as those projects will no longer be needed, Duke Energy said.
Southern Environmental Law Center responds
The nonprofit Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), in a separate Oct. 8 statement, said, “Thousands of citizens have turned out at public hearings over the summer and several North Carolina and South Carolina communities—including Mills River, Hendersonville, and Greenville, Henderson, Polk, and Spartanburg counties—have passed resolutions opposing the project.”
SELC said it and other community and conservation groups applaud Duke Energy’s action to “hit pause on its plans for at least a month.”
Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said, in part, in the statement, “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.”
D.J. Gerken, managing attorney for SELC’s Asheville office, said in the statement: “Stepping back from this disastrous transmission line is the right move for the environment and mountain communities. 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.”