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Upstate Forever worked with many dedicated groups and individuals to stop a proposed 45-mile-long Duke Energy transmission line across the Blue Ridge Mountains. In addition to rallying wide support from the public, we worked with the company to figure out a mutually beneficial solution. Duke listened to our concerns and, in the end, decided to build two smaller gas units in Asheville, to install solar facilities, and to strongly promote energy efficiency programs and incentives. This collaborative, solution-oriented approach turned out to be a win-win for Duke, Upstate residents, and the environment.
In May, 2015, Duke Energy announced a project that sent shock waves across the Upstate and western North Carolina: the construction of a massive new 45 mile long transmission line from Campobello to Asheville. Duke said it was considering 44 different routes for the line, which would be supported by over 200 towers with an average height of 142 feet. It also proposed a new substation in Campobello and a new natural gas plant in Asheville, with the line connecting the two facilities.
The “study area” for the line included large portions of northern Greenville County, northern Spartanburg County, southern Polk County, Henderson County and Buncombe County. This area’s economic well-being is inextricably tied to its stunning natural beauty and abundant green spaces, which would be severely damaged by the transmission line wherever it was built. The area also includes some of the most ecologically important lands on the planet, several of which are protected by conservation easements held by Upstate Forever.
Upstate Forever, Mountain True, the Foothills Preservation Alliance and many other groups and individuals immediately stepped up to condemn Duke’s proposal. Upstate Forever posted a “Scrap the Line” petition on our website in opposition to the proposal, ran several full page ads in major newspapers in the region, actively participated in public meetings and hearings, issued many action alerts to our members, and submitted extensive comments to the South Carolina Public Service Commission, the North Carolina Utilities Commission and Duke.
In our comments, we recognized Duke’s obligation to provide electrical power to its customers but pointed out that there was a much better way to do it than through this ill-advised and destructive project. The options include reducing the size of the natural gas plant in Asheville; expanding energy efficiency programs; and expanding the use of solar energy.
It took only a few weeks for over 9,000 citizens to sign petitions and letters, expressing their strong opposition to the proposal. One Duke official told us he had never seen so much public opposition to a utility project.
To Duke’s credit, they listened to the objections and promised to study alternatives to the project. A month later, on November 4, 2015, Duke announced they had changed their mind and were abandoning the plan for the transmission line and substation. Instead, the company decided to build two smaller gas units in Asheville, to install solar facilities, and to strongly promote energy efficiency programs and incentives.
This great victory is an inspiring example of how the voices of citizens can make a huge difference, and many of those voices were Upstate Forever members.
Even more good news followed the next year. Shortly after Duke withdrew its project, Upstate Forever proposed that the site of the substation in Campobello be protected by a conservation easement, and Duke agreed. This beautiful property consists of almost 200 acres with substantial frontage along Scenic Highway 11 and Interstate 26 and directly adjoins the historic Smith Chapel Baptist Church and Elementary School. Duke granted a conservation easement to Upstate Forever and then donated the property to The Nature Conservancy. The easement allows only three residences and agricultural and equestrian uses; commercial, industrial, utility and any further residential development are prohibited. Perfect “icing on the cake” for this accomplishment!