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Tuesday, 04 June 2019 11:50
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A representative of Duke Energy gave an update on the utility’s producton plans for the region during a breakfast meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners on May 3 in UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center. 

About 50 people attended the session.

In his update, Duke District Manager Jason Walls began by asking, rhetorically,  “So what are we doing?”

“Modernizing the Asheville power plant,” he said, in answering his own question.

To that end, Walls noted that Duke is retiring the Asheville coal units, which have a capacity to generate 376 megawatts, as it constructs “a clean natural gas-fired combined-cycle plant ,” which can generate up to 560 megawatts.

As a result of the community’s energy-reducing efforts, Walls also said the utility has put on hold plans to build a 190 megawatt peaker plant — a gas-fired plant to accommodate increased electricity production during peak demand times — until at least 2032. 

He also said solar production equipment is “to be installed on available flat land by the 2022 timeframe.”

Next, Walls asked, again, rhetorically, “Why do this?” In ewaponaw, he pointed what he termed the “significant” environmental benefits from the projects, including a 97 percent reduction of water withdrawal.

Walls also said the Duke’s projects will offer economic benefits — most notably that “this is basically a $950 million capital investment — that equates to almost 1,000 construction workers at the site over the last two years.”

Further, he pointed out that, “natural gas, as a fuel, is cheaper than coal.”

He asked, “Can you imagine building a power plant in 18 months? And then install solar, once coal ash is excavated from the project?

By state law, Duke’s Asheville coal plant has to be retired by 2020, Walls said.

At that point, Walls asked, “How has construction gone in the last 18 months?”

In answer, he said, “Booming, but wet. As with any power plant construction, there is float in the schedule.”

Walls added, “We forecast a need for 490 megawatts per year” of power for the area.

“A couple weeks ago, from looking at the forecast from last fall, we now know we don’t need the peeker power plant till 2032... We’ve been able to work (well) with Asheville and Buncombe County over the past few months.”

Through “the Blue Horizons Project…. we’re able to make reduce power demand at certain times... That’s all been done because of the collaboration we’ve been able to experience” with community leaders and residents, Walls said.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, a man asked where the natural gas pipeline that serves Asheville originates.

“The natural gas line comes up (to Asheville) from Mill Spring, South Carolina,” Walls replied.

Another man asked, “So you’ve got no place to store up natural gas?”

“Actually, we have” a place to store natural gas,” Walls responded.

The same man asked, “How long does that (backup gas supply) last?”

“We’re cautious to say we have this much supply,” Walls answered, citing the need to be vague because of security concerns. “But we could run the unit for a long time.”

CIBO member Mac Swicegood asked, “What are you going to do with the transmission line?”

“Now that we’re moving forward with a new substation at the old Volvo lot (off Patton and Clingman avenues in downtown Asheville), we will have downtown really set up” to meet its energy needs, Walls replied.

A man asked, “Will you need additional right-of-way as you do transmission line work?”

“Sometimes so, sometimes not,” Walls replied, as the Q&A was ended to give time for the meeting’s other scheduled speakers.

Next, Phillip Woolcott spoke on behalf of the Flatiron building hotel conversion project in downtown Asheville.

Woolcott, who lives in Charleston, S.C., grew up in Asheville in the 1970s and early ‘80s,” before moving to Charleston for business opportunities. “I have been looking for just the right opportunity to bring me home to Asheville,” he told the CIBO gathering. “The Flatiron Building has done just that.”

While he and others have “spent a lot of time” to devise a way to make the Flatiron building self-sustaining, “the hotel proposal was not very well-received, particularly downtown,” Woolcott noted. “So we didn’t take that lightly.

“But a hotel is the only use that will work to preserve that iconic building... We’re just in need of City Council’s approval on May 14” for the plan to advance to the renovation stage.

“I think there are a lot of people who would like to see that building preserved,” Woolcott said. “We’re very excited about that project,” despite “the pushback we’ve received.”

(At the May 14 meeting of Asheville City Council, a developer pulled his application to turn the historic Flatiron building into a boutique hotel after realizing a majority of council members would vote against it. By pulling it before the vote, it leaves open the possibility of resubmitting it down the road.

(At least for now, the building, owned by Russell Thomas, will remain as it is. Right now, the Flatiron is used as office space.)

A third speaker, Thomas E. “Tom” Hartye,  director of the Metropolitan Sewerage District; said he was speaking in place of MSD board Chair Jerry Vehaun, who missed the CIBO meeting because he came down with “a bug.”

Hartye prompted laughter from the crowd when he quipped, “We’re sort of ‘the out of sight out of mind utility’ — and that’s a good thing,” 

More seriously, he said, “As you know, some of our storms are getting more and more ferocious,” causing more problems for the MSD.

He noted that the MSD’s capital improvements program includes “major interceptors” an upsizing of the “large mains for a 50-year growth horizon” and providing “wet weather storm surge equalization.”

Hartye also told of plans for  treatment plant upgrades and sewer collection system rehab/replacement. “We’ve completed about 18,000 feet of pipe along French Broad River at Biltmore Estate,” Hartye said. “We’re rehabbing the existing pipe. It’s in a good structural condition. We’re going to line the inside of it.”

He also said that MSD is “doing a plant headworks project in Woodfin. Construction cost will be about $10 million. We are completing it right now... We’ve done about $47 million at the plant in last few years. Even more is coming up.”

Through state House Bill 758, “we serve Cane Creek Water District. Their waste comes to us. In 2017, they requested to come into our system and we rejected that. Their system is 60 miles versus ours of 1,000 miles,” Hartye said.

However, he noted, “A while back, (state) Rep. (Chuck) McGrady (R-Hendersonville) submitted a bill, wherein MSD approval at the outset would not be required. Under his bill, it would go straight to the state....  It’s in committee at this point, and then we can see where it goes.”

During a Q&A session, Swicegood asked, “our slideshow shows you don’t have anywhere to grow. It would seem that your best bet would be to relocate.”

“Not necessarily,” Hartye replied. “Just because we have a challenge doesn’t mean we can’t” make the site work.

An unidentified man asked, “We know the tourists are wearing out our sidewalks and roads — are they also wearing out our sewer system?” 

As the crowd laughed (including Hartye), Hartye replied, “Yes, if you don’t throw them down there….”

A final speaker,. David Melton of City of Asheville Water Services Department, said, “It’s been a busy month for our customers — and us — as well,” with the wet weather.

Among system improvements he discussed was the North Fork transmission waterline bypass project

“In 2004 with the floods, we had both of our supply lines wash out and we had no way to get water to the city,” Melton said. “With this, we’re putting the lines behind the river... On March 27, repairs were made. Then we had a line blow out in the River Arts District. Then we flushed for about two weeks... On Good Friday, we had Bee Tree Road line wash out... This pipeline is 1910s or 1920s era. So finding fittings to fit 1910 pipe is … keeping us busy... We’ve been flushing out our lines in the last few months to get back to the water quality you’re used to.

“Emergency situations are where we really found out where we need to improve our communications.. People have signed up for our email alert... Of course, we use social media and press releases... We have a training center for our maintenance personnel.. We’ve got 34-35 employees in our water maintenance dept.

During a Q&A that followed,  Swicegood lamented,  “Now we’ve got Bee Tree. Both times, the water that was treated for those lines” came out brown. “How do you all address that? That’s the big lines....”

“It’s all part of all those plans,” Melton replied. “We try to figure out what to do when...The Bee Tree washout can’t be predicted. But we have funds to cover it.”

Swicegood then noted, “But those problems have been around for 15 years — and we’re just getting ready to spend money on them?”

“It’s hard to replace it all at one time,” Melton answered.

When CIBO chief and emcee Buzzy Cannady tasked, “Are you getting enough money to keep the maintenance where it needs to be?” Melton responded that he is receiving adequate funding.



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