Green in brief: Duke wins downtown substation OK; local conservationists honored

Patton avenue Duke substation
IT'S A GAS: Duke's new downtown substation, insulated with heavier-than-air sulfur hexafluoride, will take up less space than a conventional air-insulated facility. Graphic courtesy of the city of Asheville

Asheville City Council approves rezoning for Duke facility

One of Asheville’s “gateway properties” will host an electrical substation for Duke Energy after City Council unanimously voted on Jan. 22 to rezone two parcels at the edge of downtown. Located at 252 Patton Ave. and 28 Knoxville Place, the new facility will feature a gas-insulated design that gives it a smaller footprint than a conventional, air-insulated substation.

Previous Duke proposals to site a new downtown substation near Isaac Dickson Elementary School in Montford; on the former Matthews Ford property on Biltmore Avenue; on Hilliard Avenue across from The Hot Spot gas station; and on Asheland Avenue near Mission Hospital all faced significant neighborhood opposition. During those discussions, the utility provider ruled out using a gas-insulated design, arguing that the technology was too expensive.

Shannon Tuch, the city’s principal planner, said the different result for this project came about through close to two years of public engagement. “This successful collaboration is largely thanks to the willingness of Duke Energy and the community members who are most significantly impacted by this proposal to sit down and identify common goals and work through a variety of design options,” she explained. No community members offered comment before Council’s vote.

The final design will enclose the substation in a two-story brick and metal building at the Knoxville Place corner of the site. The existing Hunter Volvo dealership building and surface parking lot on the property will be demolished, and most of the space not used for the substation will be prepared for future private development. Duke representatives estimate that substation construction will be completed by the end of 2020.

In a press release issued immediately after the vote, city spokesperson Polly McDaniel noted that no new substation serving downtown has been built since the 1970s, despite Asheville having grown in population by over 20 percent during that period. She said that the rezoning was aligned with the Living Asheville Comprehensive Plan designation of the area for “utility service to support growth.”

Mayor Esther Manheimer was quoted in the press release as echoing those remarks. “The Duke substation will directly support, and is necessary for, current and future development in and around the downtown area,” she said.

Talking trash

Buncombe County is seeking input on its waste and recycling collection as it prepares to award a new contract for those services in May. An online survey (avl.mx/5lb) running through Thursday, Feb. 28, allows residents in unincorporated areas of the county to share their priorities and give feedback on any obstacles they see to effective recycling.

“Input regarding possible collection service improvements will be essential for assessing the restructuring of certain contract parameters,” noted county Solid Waste Director Dane Pedersen in a press release. All feedback collected before the close of the survey will be shared with the public, county staff and the Board of Commissioners.

Worthy of note

  • Blue Ridge Outdoors recognized Asheville’s Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, with the magazine’s “Best Environmentalist” Best of the Blue Ridge award. BRO noted that Martin “has helped shutter more than 280 coal-fired power plants nationwide, including the Duke Energy coal plant in Asheville.” Local conservationists Josh Kelly, public lands biologist for MountainTrue, and Ben Prater, Southeast program director for Defenders of Wildlife, were both named as finalists in the same category.
  • Also receiving BRO’s Best of the Blue Ridge honors for “Best Environmental Organization” was the Southern Environmental Law Center, which operates an Asheville office. The magazine lauded SELC for “fighting to preserve the waterways and mountains we play on, the air we breathe and the wildlife we share this planet with.” MountainTrue was recognized as a finalist in the category.
  • The city of Asheville and Buncombe County earned Duke Energy’s Power Partner award for “Innovation in Sustainability.” At Asheville City Council’s Jan. 22 meeting, Duke spokesperson Jason Walls praised the governments for their partnership with the utility through the Energy Innovation Task Force. Demand reductions from that partnership, he said, had pushed a proposed gas-fired peaker plant at Lake Julian from a 2023 construction date to “far beyond the 15-year planning horizon.”
  • The Pisgah Conservancy was awarded $22,000 from the National Forest Foundation to tackle maintenance work on heavily used trails throughout the Pisgah Ranger District. The Art Loeb, Exercise and Estatoe Trails will all see bridge and boardwalk repairs, with work expected to wrap up by mid-June.

Save the date

  • Live staking event
    WELL-DONE STAKES: Volunteers with the French Broad Riverkeeper plant live stakes into a local riverbank to curb erosion, thereby improving water quality. Photo courtesy of the French Broad Riverkeeper

    On Thursday, Jan. 31, The Collider will sponsor a screening of Unbounded: A Journey into Patagonia to benefit the climate innovation center’s internship program. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the film begins at 7 p.m.; the suggested donation is $10 per person or $20 per family. Visit avl.mx/5mg for more information and to register.

  • The White Squirrel Institute in Brevard celebrates a unique spin on Groundhog Day:  On Saturday, Feb. 2, the nonprofit will turn to a white squirrel named Pisgah Pete. At 9 a.m. at Blue Ridge Bakery, Pete will render his prediction about winter’s length — as well as the winner of the Super Bowl, which he has guessed correctly for four consecutive years. The institute will be accepting donations at the event to benefit area licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Visit avl.mx/5md for more information.
  • The French Broad Riverkeeper, MountainTrue and the city of Hendersonville are sponsoring a Paddle-n-Plant workday on Saturday, Feb. 2, to combat sediment erosion along local waterways. From 10 a.m.-4 p.m., volunteers will plant live stakes in eroding riverbanks; these stakes will grow into trees that stabilize the soil. Visit avl.mx/5m8 for more information and to register.
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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and city government beat reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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