The Sparks Fly article in the last issue [“Sparks Fly: City Struggles to Locate, Regulate New Electrical Substations,” Aug. 3, Xpress] was well-laid-out and informative. There were some statements however, that should be debated and clarified. If the Western Carolinas Modernization and Expansion project was truly a “modernization” project, then Duke Energy Progress would not be trying to cram 100-year-old, air-cooled, ugly substations into the downtown urban core. They would use more modern technology and design that encased the substation in a building with a small footprint, using gas-insulated substation technology.
Second, there is no data to back up the statement by company spokesman [Tim] Pettit that a gas-insulated substation has a tenfold increase in costs. Readily available literature states that the cost may be twice as much, but property savings somewhat offset that cost. Duke has $16 million invested in property around Asheville that they could resell and use the difference to put in a modern substation. The Hilliard site is “a densely populated urban area.”
The city has removed two other sites that are more suitable to installing the old “not modern” air-cooled substation from discussion. Both the Matthews Ford site and the Isaac Dickson site would have allowed a 100-foot setback from the substation and even 50 feet of vegetation. One of the city’s justifications per Mayor [Esther] Manheimer is “that you can’t have a tax-credit-financed redevelopment within 500 feet of a substation.” This is not true! The source of funding for the tax credit for the Lee Walker Heights redevelopment is “LIHTC.” The 2016 Qualified Application Plan for LIHTC states that you get six points if not within 500 feet of a substation, but there is no prohibition. This information is easy to access, and hopefully the city will drop that justification.
If you read the Lee Walker development plan, it does not require the Matthews Ford site for anything other than Phase 2. Phase 2 has nothing to do with the redevelopment of Lee Walker. Phase 2 promises to bring small retail, some market-rate housing, some subsidized housing, a parking garage, etc. The city does not need more retail along Biltmore Avenue. Phase 2 is all about providing a developer with prime real estate to build more commercial space along a primarily medical corridor.
The city should allow Duke to build the substation at the Matthews Ford site if Duke insists on “not modern” air-cooled substations. It will not create a public eyesore that is seen constantly by residents and tourists!
— Betsy Sterling