Asheville City Council on Tuesday postponed a discussion, and possible vote, on new regulations for utility substations in the city. That move comes as Duke Energy continues its search for downtown locations for new power substations.
Duke Energy hasn’t built a new substation to serve downtown since the 1970s, and over the past four years, it has looked at property near Dickson Elementary School and purchased property at 226 Hilliard Ave. and 131 McDowell Ave. (Duke has also announced that it plans to begin construction of a substation at the intersection of Mills Gap and Sweeten Creek Roads on the south end of town to serving the booming Bilmtore Park area.)
Manheimer said the location of a downtown Duke utility substation “is extremely challenging.” She said on Tuesday that Duke is still looking at the McDowell Avenue location, as well as the former Hunter Volvo car dealership location at the corner of Patton and Clingman avenues. She said that City Council should put off any discussion of new regulations as Duke is “engaging the community” with in-depth conversations. “The community and Duke need to come up with what they want,” she said.
Duke Energy now has the 252 Patton Ave. former car dealership site under contract. But just like the locations, it is problematic. The property is the western end of Patton Avenue’s downtown stretch, an area that serves as a gateway into downtown for traffic exiting off Interstate 240 as it travels across the Bowen Bridge heading eastward. The property sits on a rise at the corner of Clingman Avenue, which is also a corner serving as the gateway to the booming River Arts District. There’s a large new apartment complex under construction just across Clingman Avenue from the car dealership site, and the WECAN neighborhood is adjacent to the site.
Some residents want Duke Energy to build a substation powered by natural gas, an option that’s more expensive than traditional substation construction. Residents also have the same worries that residents expressed in opposing the elementary school location – worries about exposure to electromagnetic radiation, about electrocution and a catastrophic fire or explosion. Those dangers beg the question of buffering requirements, which is a key part of the ongoing discussions between Duke and residents.