Duke Energy answers questions on controversial power line; opponents don’t like the answers

Charlotte Business Journal, September 10, 2015

A panel of Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) experts spent more than two hours last week answering questions about plans for its controversial Foothills high-voltage power line. The audience of roughly 850 western N.C. residents in Flat Rock did not much like, or believe, what it heard.

One Duke expert told the crowd a recent industry study indicated that burying the power lines, as opponents have proposed, would run the transmission costs up from about $340 million as proposed to more than $2 billion. Local resident Thomas Hill got a raucous round of applause a short time later when he said, “We don’t want these 150-foot steel towers in Henderson County. Duke needs to put these underground.”

Glen Snider, Duke’s director of resource planning, said the Charlotte-based utility needs the modernization plan’s proposed 600-megawatt natural gas plant and high-voltage line to ensure adequate and reliable power supplies for western North Carolina. Mark Stierwalt, executive director of the environmental group MountainTrue, brushed that aside.

“We urge Duke to go back to the drawing board,” Stierwalt said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “They should reduce the size of the of the gas plant and the transmission line.”
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Henderson County passes resolution on transmission lines; inks Wingate lease

Hendersonville Times-News September 8, 2015

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution outlining its position on Duke Energy’s proposed transmission lines during a meeting Tuesday, after an opening Pledge of Allegiance led by four World War II veterans and a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day,

Dubbed the Foothills Transmission Project, part of Duke’s larger Western Carolinas Modernization Project, the transmission line project would route 45 miles of 230-kilovolt power lines on 140-foot towers from the Asheville power plant to South Carolina.

The resolution, passed unanimously, says the line, which would pass through approximately 25 miles of the county, “will have negative impacts on Henderson County property owners and the Henderson County economy.”

The resolution then lists requests for North Carolina Public Utilities Commission Public Staff and Duke Energy detailing the county’s preferences if the lines are deemed necessary.

The first request is that the Utilities Commission Public Staff use an “independent consultant with expertise in electric utility system master planning” to provide an independent opinion “as to the need for the proposed transmission line project.”

The second is that the Utilities Commission hold the mandatory public hearing on the transmission lines in Henderson County.

For Duke, the county outlined seven conditions: first, that the lines be located within, adjacent or parallel to existing power transmission easements.

Second, the resolution asks Duke to construct steel monopole towers instead of the proposed steel lattice-frame structures, with “a natural color that blends with the adjacent natural colors.”

Third, that every effort be made by Duke to put the lines underground in sections that impact long-range views of existing residential subdivisions.

Fourth, the county requests that Duke use the “most current technology materials related to the conductor wires which could impact the height” of the towers, and the fifth is that “additional support poles be installed to permit lower pole heights,” especially where it could impact subdivisions.

The last two requests are that Duke permit the construction of greenways in the easements and participate in their development when possible, and that Duke Energy “fully and completely compensate any and all negatively affected property owners.”

Chairman Tommy Thompson said that after much conversation, the resolution reflects the county board’s position. He also said the city of Hendersonville was included in the discussion and could pass a very similar resolution at its meeting Thursday.

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Modernization plan off promised path

Citizen-Times by guest columnists Kelly Martin and Joan Walker

Two years ago, the Asheville Beyond Coal coalition was instrumental in the passage of the City of Asheville’s Clean Energy Resolution. That resolution, adopted unanimously by Asheville City Council on Oct. 22, 2013, created a partnership between Duke Energy and the city to help Asheville meet its carbon reduction goals “by decreasing its reliance on fossil fuels, including transitioning from coal to electricity provided by clean renewable energy sources.”

Duke Energy supported passage of the resolution, and we believed that partnership would put the region on a path toward replacing the coal plant with homegrown clean energy and phasing out the use of fossil fuels in Western North Carolina. We are thrilled that Duke Energy is retiring the coal plant at Lake Julian, a critical first step toward ending reliance on fossil fuels.

In light of this history, however, we find Duke Energy’s “WNC Modernization Plan” deeply troubling.

Rather than aligning with the goals in the resolution to transition to clean energy, Duke’s plan doubles down on powering our region with fossil fuels for decades to come, preventing the city from meeting its carbon reduction goals, and exporting electricity while our community bears the brunt of the impacts from new, large scale transmission lines.

The “modernization” calls for Duke to build a 650-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant and an approximately 40-mile, 230-kiloVolt (kV) transmission line from a new substation to be built in Campobello, S.C., to the Lake Julian plant.

So far, Duke has not provided solid data to support its claim that our region needs this massive buildout. Thousands of WNC and Upstate South Carolina residents want and deserve to know the justification for this project and whether Duke is choosing the most economically and environmentally viable solution option. Has Duke even analyzed the opportunities for clean, renewable energy to power our region? Where is their commitment to the city partnership to work toward clean energy solutions?

Elected officials in Polk County and Mills River, among others, have passed resolutions opposing this massive project, our federal representatives Patrick McHenry and Mark Meadows oppose the plans, and more people are joining the cause and asking Duke for answers each day. Hundreds of people and groups have come together under the banner of the Carolina Land Coalition.

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Put brakes on Duke’s line plan

From Blue Ridge Now:

Reading Monday’s article about businesses and farmers concerned over Duke Energy’s proposed “Foothills” transmission line, one gets the impression Duke officials just don’t get it.

A Duke spokesman talks as if the utility will proceed with designing and engineering the line as soon it chooses its preferred route.

That’s not how it will work. The nation’s largest utility faces a bruising battle unless it picks a route that avoids significant vistas, farmlands, neighborhoods and natural features. That seems all but impossible, barring Duke announcing some unforeseen breakthrough at tonight’s meeting of the Public Staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission at Blue Ridge Community College.

It is not just a matter of the company choosing a route and starting design and engineering, as spokesman Ryan Mosier suggested in Monday’s article. The N.C. Utilities Commission will have to approve any route in North Carolina, as will its counterpart in South Carolina.

Although these agencies are unlikely to block the project, disagreement over a route could lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to get involved. And no matter what route Duke chooses — even if it keeps its promise to minimize environmental and social impacts — the utility will face opposition and possibly lawsuits from affected landowners.

Read the full article on BlueRidgeNow.com

United front is getting attention

From BlueRidgeNow.com

Meanwhile, community opposition groups that sprung up countywide have banded together with regional environmental group MountainTrue to form the Carolina Land Coalition. Their goal: “oppose all transmission line routes under consideration, the scale of the new natural gas plant and the associated substation.”

One of the coalition’s goals is to maintain a unified voice once the preferred route is chosen. That will be a challenge as residents of other areas will tend be less alarmed once they find the line is not planned in their backyards, despite overall concerns.

We support Duke’s plans to close the coal-fired power plant that has been polluting the region’s air and water for decades. The key to stopping the line, if there is one, lies in an independent review of the numbers Duke will use to justify it as part of the overall projects. Residents are on the right track to demand such a review with a united voice.



Duke Energy answers tough questions from angry crowd hundreds pack public hearing

FlatRockDukeHearingFLAT ROCK, N.C. Duke Energy officials were in the hot seat Thursday night.They took questions from a fired-up crowd at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina.The meeting was concerning the modernization project expected to bring 45 miles of new power lines to the region.

More than 800 people packed the hearing.For more than an hour, Duke answered tough questions from the Public Staff Utilities Commission.  Then they took questions from the crowd.

One of the questions was, why can’t Duke put lines underground? Officials said they looked into it and it would cost seven times the amount the proposed plan costs.

Another question to Duke was, why the lines can’t go through existing rights of way? Officials said the company is looking to co-locate new lines where possible, but they will still need to build new structures to accommodate all the lines.

Duke Energy officials admitted a study on adverse health effects was inconclusive.

“The most favored solution by all is for Duke to cancel the proposed transmission project,” said a woman.

Many at the public hearing said they feel misled.

“I am appalled by the method they are taking, and I am also appalled by the misinformation,” said Debra Stephens. Duke Energy is looking at four possible routes to put 140-foot power lines.

Spokesman Tom Williams said Duke Energy understands there will be some negative impacts but said a project like this is necessary to keep the lights on.

“It’s booming and there hasn’t been additional infrastructure built in the actual region, in this area really since the 70s,” said Williams.

Stephens said she doesn’t believe there are no other alternatives.

“We are the people that are going to have the base of our economy damaged, the base of our lifetime investment, of individuals, only for them to put corporate money in their pockets,” said Stephens.

Those against the project feel no matter what Duke decides, nobody wins.

“This is infringing on people’s property rights, their life plans, that are completely uprooted if a transmission line comes through their property or their neighborhood,” said Joan Walker with the Carolina Land Coalition.

Duke Energy will announce its final decision on a route in early October.

Ties to Duke Energy Abound in NC Utilities Commission Appointees

Published June 2013

An ongoing point of concern is how “cozy” the NC Utilities Commission seems to be with Duke Energy.

From Indy Weekly:

“[Governor McCrory] has not made any sort of justification for why he believes his obvious conflict of interest should not require any recusal,” Warren says. “It’s pretty obvious to most observers that he is conflicted.”

. . .

“It’s pretty clear to us that Duke [Energy] vetted these people. And that Duke still has far too much influence over various aspects of our state government.”

Write your representatives and the public staff to be sure no conflict of interest is keeping these deals behind closed doors. Utilities should be driven the public good, NOT by profit!

Another regulator cozy with Duke Energy

Another regulator cozy with Duke Energy – Jason Miczek/Greenpeace
March 20, 2014

One word has been used repeatedly to describe the relationship between Duke Energy and its environmental regulatorsin the wake of its coal ash spill last month: cozy.

Plenty of evidence exists to suggest that Duke and its utility regulators are pretty cozy too. The cozy description has largely centered around a federal criminal investigation into Duke and North Carolinas Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Employees from Duke and DENR received subpoenas after an Associated Press article suggested that DENR had suppressed non-profit lawsuits against Dukes coal ash pollution.

Now the head of the North Carolina Utility Commission (NCUC), Ed Finley, has been subpoenaed regarding his oversight of Dukes coal ash. The development highlights NCUCs own conflicts of interest regarding Duke, and calls into question NCUCs objectivity toward two major upcoming decisions: whether Duke will get away with passing the cost of it coal ash dumps onto customers, and whether Duke Energy will get away with its plan to stop fair compensation for rooftop solar providers.

Disturbingly cozy associations
In many ways, NCUCs commissioner make-up reads like a utility all-star team. Four of its 7 commissions, including Chairman Ed Finley, came to the NCUC with direct professional ties to the utility industry. The head of Public Staff, hired to protect customer interests before the NCUC, also has ties to the sector. The same four NCUC commissioners were either appointed or reappointed by Gov. McCrory, a former Duke Energy employee of 28 years whose financial ties to the company have faced renewed suspicion in the wake of the coal ash spill. McCrory is also credited with pushing DENR away from environmental protection and toward customer service for businesses.

A quick rundown of the people in question:

EdFinley, Chairman

– Appointed in 2007. Reappointed by Gov. McCrory in 2013.

– Worked 27 years and was a partner at Hunton & Williams, where he represented numerous utilities. Hunton & Williams clients included Duke up until Finley became NCUC chairman. While Finley was chair, Hunton & Williams represented Progress Energy as the company merged with Duke.

– Acknowledging his own ties to the utility industry, Finley wrote to the State Ethics Commission: For several former clients, it will be necessary to refrain from participating in cases in which they are parties for a nite period of time.

Jerry Dockham, Commissioner

– Appointed by McCrory in 2013. Previously a state legislator of 23 years.

– As a legislator, Dockham was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a pro-industry lobby group of which Duke was a member as recently as 2013. ALEC has approved model legislationattacking homeowners whose solar panels contribute electricity back to the grid.

James Patterson, Commissioner

– Appointed by McCrory in 2013. Previously a public relations professional and founder of Webb Patterson (later Patterson Partners).

– Webb Patterson represented a subsidiary of Progress Energy, Carolina Power & Light, from 2004 to 2009.

– Patterson was president of B&C Associates, which lists Duke as a client.

Don Bailey, Commissioner

– Appointed by McCrory in 2013.

– Previously worked as an engineer at ATI Allvac. The companys products include heavy equipment for utilities.

Chris Ayers, Executive Director of Public Staff

– Worked as lawyer for Poyner Spruill, representing utilities before NCUC. According to Poyner Spruills website: The utilities practice group has signicant experience before the North Carolina Utilities Commission and other administrative agencies. Our attorneys maintain productive working relationships with utilities regulators in an effort to minimize adversarial proceedings and obtain positive client outcome while minimizing litigation expense.

– Was flagged by NC state ethics commission: “[Ayers] has the potential for a conict of interest and should exercise appropriate caution in the performance of his public duties should Poyner & Spruill or his clients come before him for ofcial action.

The background of the NCUC could have been even more slanted toward utilities. Last year, Republican state legislators attempted to pass a bill that would have allowed McCrory to replace the entire NCUC with his own appointees. One sponsor stated that the bill would allow for appointees who are more like-minded and willing to carry out the philosophy of the new administration. Luckily, the bill failed.

The collapsed retention pond and the plume of coal ash flowing into the Dan River.

The collapsed retention pond and the plume of coal ash flowing into the Dan River.

Big decisions and the public interest
Even before its current cast of commissioners, the NCUC has developed a track record of accommodating Duke. It has approved rate hikes in 3 of the last 5 years. And NCUC has routinely agreed to Dukes long-term energy plans, which continues to rely heavily on expensive coal, gas and nuclear plants that risk becoming stranded assets. All under Finleys watch.

With its objectivity increasingly called into question, NCUC will soon confront critical decisions regarding the future of two energy sources. One is coal and its coal ash waste. Duke claims it will take on the cost of the most recent coal ash spill.

But the company appears confident that the cost of cleaning up its remaining coal ash pondsas much as some $1 billion will be passed on to customers.

Another decision surrounds net-metering. The policy allows homeowners with solar panels on their roofs to be compensated via credits for any surplus electricity they contribute back to the grid. Duke says it intends to press regulators to reduce that compensation, and keep more of that money for itself. Such a decision would certainly please ALEC Commissioner Dockhams club when he was state legislator as well.

The majority of the NCUC has built at least some portion of its career serving utility clients. But NCUC is not a law firm, its a public office. NCUC has the opportunity to show its commitment to that office by deciding in the public interest on major upcoming decisions. Otherwise, it risks providing the same customer service to Duke as DENR.

Read the original article on Greenpeace

PLEASE ATTEND this Thursday: Informational meeting with NC Public Staff and Duke Energy representatives

The North Carolina Public Staff has agreed to an informational meeting at Blue Ridge Community College in the CONFERENCE HALL [Note location change!] in Flat Rock, NC, on September 3rd from 6:00 – 9:00 pm.

This meeting is open to the public, but it is not an official public hearing.

The Public Staff will pose questions to Duke Energy representatives concerning this project, criteria, and timeline.  These questions will include many of the questions that the Public Staff has received from the general public, as well as questions developed by the Public Staff.

This is not a hearing and the meeting is not being conducted by the Utilities Commission.  The Public Staff, which is a separate and independent agency that represents the using and consuming public in utilities matters, will conduct the informational meeting. Write your representatives and ask them to call for a public hearing!

Members of the public will have an opportunity to speak for the purpose of raising relevant issues they believe should be considered as part of the process. 

This informational meeting will serve to more fully educate both the general public and the Public Staff with respect to this stage of the project and help bring greater clarity and transparency to the process.

NOTE: Location changed to BRCC Conference Hall (same location as August 13th meeting) [from WHKP].  The Blue Ridge Conference Hall is located at 49 East Campus​ Drive, ​Flat Rock, NC


From the Asheville Citizen-Times:

The Utilities Commission public staff is expected to ask Duke representatives about the process, criteria, and timeline used when siting transmission lines, said Christopher Ayers, executive director of that agency.

“The Public Staff has received numerous inquiries from the general public and elected officials regarding the Foothills Transmission Line project and we hope that this informational meeting will serve to more fully educate both the public and our staff,” Ayers said in a statement. “While this is not an official hearing, we believe the exchange of information will address many questions and help bring greater clarity and transparency to the process.”

The Public Staff has an informational webpage providing links to information of interest related to the project:


Please join us there to voice your concern! We hope all residents of both NC and SC will come to show just how many people are affected by this.


From N.C. Utilities Commission Public Staff:

The North Carolina Utilities Commission Public Staff will facilitate an informational meeting concerning Duke Energy’s proposed Foothills Transmission Line project on September 3, 2015 from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Blue Ridge Community College Auditorium. During the meeting, the Public Staff will pose questions to Duke Energy representatives concerning the process, criteria, and timeline used when siting transmission lines and the specific process Duke is using for the Foothills project. Members of the public will have an opportunity to speak for the purpose of raising relevant issues for consideration in the process. Organized groups are encouraged to designate speakers to provide comment so that as many communities and interests as possible can be heard. As this informational meeting pertains only to the portion of the project impacting western North Carolina, speakers will be limited to North Carolina residents only. “The Public Staff has received numerous inquiries from the general public and elected officials regarding the Foothills Transmission Line project and we hope that this informational meeting will serve to more fully educate both the public and our staff,” said Christopher Ayers, Executive Director of the Public Staff. “While this is not an official hearing, we believe the exchange of information will address many questions and help bring greater clarity and transparency to the process.”

The Public Staff may be contacted at (919) 733-9277

Duke Energy may be contacted at (919) 508-5400

Read more here