COLUMBIA — More than 100 people came to Gentry Middle School on Wednesday evening to learn more about a proposal that could mean new power lines near their home.
New power lines are needed to cope with increasing electricity demands in south Columbia. Two of the city's substations experience overloading in the summer, when more people use their air conditioning.
Many at the open house, which was hosted by the Columbia Water and Light Department to discuss the second of two power line proposals, asked questions about health risks, costs and the possibility that the power lines could devalue their homes.
Ryan Williams, the department's assistant director, mapped out the proposal, describing where the lines would go and what they might look like. Williams answered questions for about an hour following his presentation.
"We haven't physically grown, but our loads have grown," he said.
During the meeting, Williams said he expects construction to pick up in south Columbia as the economy improves, adding to the demand for power. He added that people are buying more electronic appliances, so even when the number of houses and businesses in an area stay the same, the demand for electricity still increases.
"Looking into the future, we need to have the ability to handle the additional load," he said.
Option B, discussed Wednesday, is the second proposal the Department of Water and Light has developed. After the department released its first plan – Option A – last year, the Columbia City Council requested an alternative that would use more existing power line paths.
Option A affects more people but is likely a more long-term solution, Williams said. Almost 3,200 residents live within 150 feet of the new power lines proposed in this plan, and hundreds came to an open house meeting to discuss the proposal last year.
During both open house meetings, the department collected written feedback from attendees. The department will use the feedback to determine which power line routes are most accepted by the public.
Some people said they were uncomfortable with the idea of relying on the feedback to give a final recommendation to the council.
"Does it really make sense to pit one part of the community against the other?" Don Ladd said.
In both plans, the new power lines add connections between electric substations, including to a proposed substation on Peach Tree Court. Both options call for some 161-kilovolt lines, but Option B uses them less, relying more on 69-kilovolt lines.
The department will likely recommend one of the options to the council in the next few months. Construction on the new substation could begin as early as 2014.
"It would probably take a year or two to build," Williams said.