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.”
Out-of-state sales

Snider frequently insisted Duke is building the project just to serve North and South Carolina and would not sell power from the plant to other states. But the audience disputed that time and again. “It seems more like greed than need,” said Tom Dekay, a businessman from Saluda.

The informational meeting in the auditorium of Blue Ridge Community College was organized by the Public Staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission.

It did not appear to change many minds. But James McLawhorn, director of the electric division, says it was important to bring Duke and the public together to discuss the 45-mile, 230-kilovolt line that would connect the proposed $750 million gas plant in Asheville to a new substation in Campobello, S.C.

“We thought it went well for the most part,” McLawhorn says. “We felt like we got a lot of good information out.”

Less testy

The full meeting lasted about three-and-a-half hours (see the full video below — or here, if it does not appear on your web browser) and included prepared statements from local opponents as well as the questions posed to Duke.

Chris Ayers, the public staff’s executive director, moderated a panel of Duke experts for the first 90 minutes of the meeting. That helped make the meeting a little less testy than an earlier meeting in South Carolina where the public raised its objections without any response from Duke.

But the crowd remained skeptical. There were loud catcalls interrupting Snider when he said western North Carolina was “a pretty attractive place to live. We recognize that.” The crowd hooted him down at that point, and again when he added, “But it is not an attractive place to live if we don’t have electricity.”

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