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Duke Energy abandons power line project

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By Matthew Clark
mclark@scbiznews.com
Published Nov. 4, 2015

After months of planning and numerous public meetings, Duke Energy has decided to scrap its plans to run 45 miles of transmission lines from Asheville to Campobello though parts of northern Greenville and Spartanburg counties.

Initially, Duke planned to retire its coal-fired power plant in Asheville, build a natural gas plant and run generation lines through western North Carolina and into Greenville and Spartanburg counties down to a substation located off Interstate 26 in Campobello. Duke was scheduled to release the specific route of the transmission lines before this latest development.

The new plan still includes Duke retiring its plant in Asheville and, instead of building one large natural-gas plant in its place, Duke will construct two smaller gas units, thus eliminating the need for the additional transmission lines. The company said it plans to retire the Asheville plant by 2020.

A transmission line similar to this one located near Campobello was part of Duke Energy’s proposed $320 million Foothills Transmission Line project. The project, which included lines from Asheville to Campobello, was halted by Duke officials. (Photo by Matthew Clark)
A transmission line similar to this one located near Campobello was part of Duke Energy’s proposed $320 million Foothills Transmission Line project. The project, which included lines from Asheville to Campobello, was halted by Duke officials. (Photo by Matthew Clark)

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“We have been committed to developing a plan to maintain the region’s power reliability with the least possible impact on communities, property owners and the environment from the start of this effort, and we believe our revised plans accomplish these goals,” said Lloyd Yates, Duke Energy’s executive vice president for market solutions and president of the Carolinas region, in a press release.

Residents like Suzanne Strickland, president of Our Carolina Foothills and owner of Stone Soup Restaurant in Landrum, opposed the line proposal, citing the power lines would have a negative effect on the travel and tourism economy of the region, specifically the horse farms and facilities throughout the area and the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina.

“It would have killed our economy and ruined our way of life,” Strickland said. “It was clear everyone was against it, and I am thrilled they listened.”

Duke Energy officials said the new plan will include an expansion of renewable energy and programs to reduce energy consumption during peak demand times. The plan also includes the potential construction of a third gas plant in Asheville, depending on the rate of demand.

“While the initial plan was indeed the best technical solution, it wasn’t the best practical solution,” said Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier. “The revised plan strikes that balance of addressing concerns from the public, minimizing environmental impact and meeting our schedule of being able to supply much needed generation to this growing area.”

The company said it will rebuild existing transmission lines and upgrade substations using existing rights of way to “increase Duke Energy Progress’ ability to continue importing enough power into the Asheville region to serve the region’s growing power demand and meet federal power reliability standards.” Duke has said peak power demand has “more than tripled in Duke Energy Progress’ Western Region” since 1970. The region serves 160,000 customers.

In late October, Duke Energy announced its acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas, based in Charlotte, for approximately $4.9 billion in cash and assumed approximately $1.8 billion in debt. Piedmont’s S.C. service area includes Anderson, Greenville, Spartanburg and Cherokee counties. The transaction is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Piedmont will retain its name and will operate as a business unit of Duke Energy.

Duke Energy said its new two-gas unit plan will reduce pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide and eliminate mercury. Officials said the two smaller plants will be “about 35% less expensive to operate.” However, the final price tag of the project is still expected to be around the $1.1 billion the original plan was estimated to cost. Duke said it will file a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the new gas units with the North Carolina Utilities Commission in January.

Mosier said the proposed transmission line project “is no longer necessary” but the company has “an obligation and responsibility to continue to enhance the reliability of the grid and overall system for all our customers.”

“Any future transmission lines and substations will be based on growth and regulatory needs at that time,” Mosier said.

For now, opponents of the project said they can get back to the business of business in the region.

“Hopefully we can now continue with our business and move forward,” Strickland said. “I know this took a lot of energy from everyone, and now we can get back to business … we can all sleep a little easier now.”

Matthew Clark can be reached at 864-235-5677, ext. 107 or @matthewclark76 on Twitter

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