Published in The Spartanburg Herald-Journal on January 8, 2023
“Rural Residents Want Answers on Substation plan from Duke”
by Martial Robichaud
In a recent story about Duke Energy’s Big Ferguson Project, Councilman David Britt, who chairs the Spartanburg County Economic Development Committee, stated, 'There is no doubt that the S.C. 101 and S.C. 417 highway corridors, the Smith Farms Industrial Park (north of Green Pond and west of Reidville) and support-businesses for BMW are adding jobs and increasing employment for southwestern Spartanburg County.'
He goes on to say, 'These businesses need continuous energy for successful and profitable operations, benefiting the residents who work in these facilities, their families and the Spartanburg County economy. Duke Energy has been one of our strongest partners in the past 30 years.'
Britt’s comments indicate that industrial demand has driven Duke’s purchase of property in a rural neighborhood and its plans to build a new substation and erect high-voltage transmission lines across rural farmland, greenspace and agricultural areas.
Members of the community have requested that Duke provide specific studies, analyses, and data that justify its mantra of 'demand, increased reliability and growth' in our specific community as well as many other technical and market-driven questions, which remain unanswered.
Absent that, we must rely on Britt’s characterization of the justification of the project.
The Green Pond Community and the Green Pond Rural Alliance do not oppose industrial and economic growth; we merely want the infrastructure needed for this growth to be constructed and erected on the commercial, industrial, and huge residential development areas requiring this power. This is a practical and equitable concern to this rural, farming community.
Duke’s proposed transmission line is a 100 kilo-volt line that skirts Public Service Commission (PSC) review, approval and oversight due to the higher thresholds established by state legislators. Lack of PSC jurisdiction also means the support and resources, including legal assistance, of the SC Office of Regulatory Staff and SC Department of Consumer Affairs are not automatically provided to affected residents and landowners.
Duke’s effort to engage the potentially affected landowners before proceeding on this project was somewhat disingenuous given it had purchased the substation property before seeking community input.
Additionally, the Duke Energy Big Ferguson Project falls under the usage of 'Essential Services' within the county ordinance, and does not require approval by the County Planning Commission.
Green Pond and other communities that will undoubtedly face future similar Duke Energy projects sized just under PSC approval thresholds, will only have the option to oppose these projects through the court of public opinion. We intend to get the proposed substation and transmission lines moved from a community neighborhood to an industrial site in an area that currently requires and is driving additional demand.
We ask the following from our elected officials and the Public Service Commission: Insist on a meaningful and effective engagement format and agenda for Duke’s next open house (tentatively scheduled by Duke in February)—one that follows the format of a community meeting led by Duke executives, Duke decision-makers and our elected officials. We want specific data, studies and analyses.
We want an opportunity to ask questions and get answers.
Martial Robichaud is a resident of the Green Pond area and a former member of the Spartanburg County Planning Commission.