With the downtown Asheville location of a new Duke Energy power substation all but a done deal, a new working group has been formed to work out details, an Asheville Downtown Commission member told his colleagues on Friday.
“It has seemed to find a home” at the corner of Patton and Clingman avenues, Michael McDonough, chairman of commission, said on Friday.
Ashvegas first reported back in April that Duke Energy was eyeing the high-profile lot, a former Hunter Volvo car dealership site. The property sits the western end of Patton Avenue’s downtown stretch, an area that is a gateway into downtown for traffic exiting off Interstate 240 as it travels east across the Bowen Bridge. The corner also serves as a gateway to the booming River Arts District.
Over about the past three years, Duke has been on an active search for downtown sites for new substations to serve the electrical needs of a growing city. Duke Energy hasn’t built a new substation to serve downtown since the 1970s, according to Asheville Citizen-Times reports.
Since April, negotiations with city officials and talks with concerned citizens and neighbors have all occurred out of the public eye. Those talks will continue in an organized fashion with the new working group, McDonough said, and out of the public spotlight. The group includes neighbors, nearby property owners, officials representing the city of Asheville and the River Arts District, and McDonough, he said. The group’s first meeting “was very productive,” he added.
“It seems like Duke is invested in welcoming input, McDonough said.
The working group process will last about eight weeks, with a site plan coming at the end of that period, he said.
The Patton and Clingman corridors, and the old car lot corner, are critical pathways, McDonough said. “It’s important that when they put their power station there, they not kill that corner,” he said.
Commissioner Dane Barrager asked if the new substation would be a gas insulated substation, rather than an air-cooled one like the one behind the Asheville Civic Center. McDonough said Duke Energy was exploring the possibility. The technology is more expensive than an air-cooled substation, but that technology allows it to be built inside a building, or walled off, he said.
“I feel really good about working group,” he added, noting that it included Matt Sprouse of Sitework Studios and another landscape designer.
I read up on the Gas-Insulated Substation (GIS) technology and it’s really fascinating. Basically it involves putting all the electrical equipment inside vessels filled with sulfur hexafluoride gas (SF6). It is a better insulator than air, so the transformers can be smaller and much closer to each other. As a consequence, these facilities take up MUCH less space than conventional air-insulated equipment, and are often built inside buildings. As for safety, SF6 is a potent greenhouse gas, but is completely odorless, non-toxic, and biologically inert: you can see bunches of videos on youtube of people inhaling it to change their voices, just like helium.
Duke has built several gas-insulated substations in NC already, all in Chapel Hill, at the request of the university, which was required to pay the difference in construction cost.
I bet that if Duke can be persuaded to build a Gas-Insulated Substation, they could fit it on the back of the lot. This could leave space on the front of the lot for development, which could in turn partially offset the higher costs of using the GIS technology. When Duke did this in Chapel Hill, one of the options was for the university to pay $29 million upfront for Duke to rebuild three substations using GIS technology. So with full upfront payment, figure about $10 million for a single substation. The extra land leftover after using this technology could possibly be sold for $2 million, so that would be perhaps $8 million total cost to the city?
To me it seems that this might be worth it. It would be penny-wise and pound-foolish to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convert the Patton Avenue bridge over to local traffic, and yet build a conventional old, ugly substation at the first prominent intersection heading into downtown from there.
I totally agree with Jan S.’s comment. It’s a big mistake, placing an electric substation at such a visible and important location/entry to our city and the arts district. Big mistake.
Surely other locations more suited for such, could be found.
What an awful idea on a prime piece of property. An electric substation needs to be tucked away, out of sight. And away from residents and workers. That very visible corner upon entry to downtown used for this purpose? Laughable!! But if it’s a “done deal,” then it’s no laughing matter. It IS a mistake placing it there.