Saturday, June 24, 2017

Downtown Duke Substation Proposed for Patton & Clingman Ave

Neighborhood Update: Re: Proposed Duke-Energy substation at Patton and Clingman

Over the last four years Duke-Energy has tried to address Asheville’s growing energy needs. With the extensive growth in the last few years, especially in downtown, they have shown a need for a second substation to supplement and back up the fifty plus year old one on Rankin Avenue. They have since then acquired several properties including an option on a 3.5 acre site at 252 Patton Avenue (last housing Hunter Volvo.) For various reasons most of the other sites were not usable (Please see background detail below).  

Legally Duke is authorized by the state to provide energy for businesses and residents and has broad powers to achieve its mission. Legally residents and the city have little or no power to oppose Duke in its mission. However, a representative from Duke-Energy is working with a small group of stakeholders (city staff, community representatives, engineers) to explore options for mutual gain. Duke-Energy has invited the community to be part of this conversation. To keep the conversation productive, they have made the reasonable request to avoid involving the news media at this point.

The site under consideration is in the Central Business District and therefore has very few zoning restrictions but it is uniquely--and rarely for the CBD, adjacent to a residential zone. Some of the issues that have emerged are: best use of property, cost,  EMF(electro-magnetic field) health effects, maintenance access, noise and visual impacts, pedestrian safety, protection of immediate neighbors, reliability for the next 100 years, redundancy (to back up Rankin Avenue,) several neighborhood plans addressing a gateway for downtown, site security and traffic mitigation.

Initially, their first offering of a standard off-the-shelf substation (like one at 168 Clayton Road) was proposed to solve some of the concerns but did not effectively use the rest of the site and created more problems for the neighborhood.  The neighbors and the city staff prefer a smaller footprint for the substation and activation of the rest of the property for residential and commercial development.

The neighbors have acknowledged Duke’s need and are reluctant to kick the can down the road for some other neighborhood to deal with. They see the challenges and the opportunity for an innovative and creative solution that also benefits the neighborhood and the city. WECAN (West End Clingman Avenue Neighborhood) articulated principles that their community values: Equity and Diversity, Planning and Effective Land Use, Energy and Environment, Safe Home and Environment, Collaboration.

Importantly, Duke-Energy is listening and willing to work with the community for a win-win-win. Meanwhile, the city is in the process of writing an ordinance covering the buffering of utilities. The time frame is short. Construction needs to begin before the end of the year. The conversation continues with a smaller working group to explore alternate ideas for use of the space. The group from WECAN includes: Jessie Coleman, Joe Fioccola, Lynn Hall, Rachel Larson, Luke W Perry and Pattiy Torno. 

For more information, questions and concerns contact: wecannews@gmail.com.

Additional Background Detail: 

Since August of 2014, Duke has purchased 3 sites for this purpose and has 1 under contract. Currently Duke owns the former Matthews Ford site at 319 Biltmore Ave, around 17 acres in Montford surrounding the Isaac Dickson Elementary School on Hill St, and 226 Hilliard Avenue across from the Hot Spot. Duke Energy is under contract to purchase another site at 252 Patton Avenue, the former Hunter Volvo site. This includes the approximately 3.5 combined acres owned by the Meeker family. Duke’s due diligence period ends at the end of July, but they would like to make a decision by mid June.

At each previous site there was pushback from the city of Asheville, affordable housing developers, social justice advocates, neighborhood groups and parent-teacher organizations who rallied against placement in their backyard, thus pushing Duke to continue their search for an appropriate location. 

Substation Details: 
According to Jason Walls, a spokesperson for Duke, the substation technology proposed is similar to a substation at 168 Clayton Rd.  

This type of substation is conventional outdoor air insulated substation. There are multiple other types of substations, including indoor and gas insulated, but Duke does not prefer this type. This substation would likely be both a transmission and distribution substation, meaning it would continue to transmit power to north Asheville and step down the voltage to the type of power that the downtown systems can use.  

Due to the slope of the Patton Avenue site, initial assessments would suggest that for Duke to have a level site, they would have to dig down 10-15 feet on the North end of the property. The initial layouts presented at an April 5th meeting covered about 300 x 215 sq feet. If the tallest part of the substation were placed in that dug out area, the two 50-60 feet high power poles would then be 40-50 feet above Patton Ave. The two transformers behind these would be 10-20 feet high. 

Current technology allows for substations to be buried underground, like under a parking deck or building, or placed within a standalone single story building.  The footprint for a GIS substation can be a fifth of the size of a conventional air insulated substation. Gas Insulated Switchgear (GIS) has been around for several decades and is commonly used in urban environments. However, the only example of this in Duke’s territory is in Chapel Hill, NC. Gas Insulated technology was used to replace an air-insulated substation in 2008, and was housed inside a building. The address for this substation appears to be 170 Old Mason Farm Rd, Chapel Hill, across from the Ronald MacDonald House.

August 2014
Duke purchased the old Matthews Ford site (~5.5 acres) at 319 Biltmore Avenue just north of Mission Hospital and adjacent to Lee Walker Heights for $5.3M. The proximity to a Housing Authority development again had the community up in arms. In addition, the City of Asheville would like to use some of this land to enlarge the mixed use/ mixed income redevelopment currently being planned for Lee Walker Heights public housing.

December 2014
Duke purchased ~ parcels totaling 16.93 acres in Montford, along Hill St for ~$5.4M and surrounding Isaac Dickson Elementary School.  There was enough community push back from parents at Isaac Dickson Elementary that this location is strongly opposed by the Mayor. Another media clip found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufz1HEP_W8E

December 2014
Duke purchased the old Hayes & Lunsford property (1.79 acres) for ~$3M on the corner of Hilliard & Asheland at 226 Hilliard Ave.  In meetings stretching over 2 years with the South French Broad neighborhood, it was determined that a traditional substation could not fit on this parcel with sufficient buffers to the residential sections that surround it.

January 2017
Duke holds meeting at Fire Department Training Room. Focus on meeting was to not discuss specific sites but to step back and share common ideas for what folks wanted and didn’t want from a substation. Jason provided sticky notes and we were asked to each write down several ideas and put them on the wall. He cites the following as takeaway guiding principles:
-       Plan a long-term solution (50-100 years) to avoid having to build again.
-       Ensure safety for neighbors, community and employees.
-        Reduce noise impacts.
-        Mitigate visual impacts. (i.e., increased buffering, fewest poles, etc.)
-       Consider the best-use for a specific property and consider best use for specific properties (i.e., traffic, impacts on established neighborhoods, etc.). 
-       Ensure reliable electricity, with appropriate redundancy.
-       Lowest cost reasonable.

February 2017
Duke secures an option to purchase the recently vacated Hunter Volvo car dealership on the corner of Clingman & Patton (~ 3.47 acres).  There are three houses that Duke might like to also purchase on Knoxville Place.  So far these neighbors do not want to sell their houses, but also do not want to live with a substation as a neighbor.

March 8, 2017
Duke notifies (by email) members of the neighborhoods, city and chamber officials about the option to purchase on the Hunter Volvo Site. He reiterates that this decision was made from listening to feedback at the January meeting, following the guiding principles stated above.
      
April 5, 2017
Duke and the City of Asheville call a meeting @ City Hall. Jason informs us of the likelihood of this site being the final option, and 3 site layouts were included. He indicates that they have a 3rd party appraisal study showing there is no impact to nearby property values. The appraisal report was requested to be shared with neighbors. It has not yet been shared. A meeting was suggested to be had in May, as the deadline for the option to purchase was approaching in July.

June 7, 2017
WECAN Association host a meeting with Duke at the Haywood Street Congregation (297 Patton Ave) and invite additional surrounding neighbors, additional stakeholders from the River Arts District and Downtown associations, and representatives from Chamber of Commerce, City of Asheville, Isaac Dickson PTO, and Montford and South French Broad who have participated in the process over the last 2 years.  A revised layout is presented showing a single A-Frame construction, normally 50 feet high, placed 20 feet below Patton Ave, as the site needs to be evenly graded for all of the components. Decibel estimate explanations are shared as well. Nearest residence is approximately 100 feet from nearest components, which would experience around 50 decibels, similar to a "calm conversation". 

June 26th, 2017
Duke spokesperson Jason Walls requests additional meetings as the option to purchase deadline approaches.  It is held at the Aston Park Tennis Court meeting room at 5pm to 6:30pm. Duke invites individuals from an Oklahoma based company to discuss Gas Insulated Substation Technology, which could substantially reduce the footprint of the site and enable other buildings to be situated on the street front. Cathy Ball speaks on the changing nature of Patton Avenue under the current NC DOT Plans for realigning I-26 off of the Captain Jeff Bowen Bridge.