*CORRECTION: The city received 1,500 responses to its survey.
COLUMBIA — After multiple public hearings and a public survey, Columbia's Water and Light Department has recommended a proposed layout for new electric transmission lines in south and west Columbia.
Water and Light staff recommended during a work session Thursday afternoon that the Columbia City Council approve "Option A." That option, it said is the most cost-effective and offers the longest term solution to the city's power issues.
In 2010 the city bought property near Peachtree Plaza for a new Mill Creek substation to improve the reliability and capacity of the city's electric distribution system. Since buying the land, Water and Light has presented three options to the public for connecting Mill Creek to other power stations.
Option A recommends running three 161-kilovolt powerlines from the proposed Mill Creek substation to three substations within Columbia and Boone County.
- One line would run west along Nifong Boulevard, then north on Scott Boulevard to the Perche Creek substation.
- Another would run from Mill Creek east along Grindstone Parkway to the Grindstone substation.
- A third would run south along Providence Road to Route K.
The staff's suggestion was based on public information sessions and a public survey mailed to 30,000 Water and Light customers in November.
Based on information collected from a November public information session and 1,500* responses from the survey, the staff found that:
- If residents had to select a project based on its necessity, the majority of respondents preferred Option A.
- Respondents said that top priorities for the new power lines include reliable electric service, a long-term solution to power needs and as little expense and effect on utility rates as possible.
- All three of the proposed routes would have roughly equal negative impact in terms of environmental impact, proximity of the proposed routes to residences, schools, businesses and/or recreation and conservation areas.
Council members talked at length about whether at least parts of the new lines should be buried.
Water and Light Director Tad Johnsen said that while overhead lines would be least expensive and most beneficial for the long term, there was some public preference for underground lines.
Johnsen said the city could start each of the lines underground from the Mill Creek substation then transition to overhead lines. Under that scenario:
- The transmission lines to the Perche Creek substation would run below ground to Bethel Street.
- The transmission lines to the Grindstone substation would run underground to the 69-kilovolt lines near Grindstone Parkway and Gray Oak Drive.
- The transmission lines to the McBaine station would run below ground along South Providence Road past Rock Bridge Elementary School.
That scenario would cost more than $35 million, while the overhead Option A would cost about $13 million. The Water and Light report to the council said the impact on monthly utility bills for the overhead lines under Option A would be $1.18 for the next 20 years, while the partially underground lines would boost rates by $3.17 per month.
Johnsen also noted that underground lines have to be repaired more often.
Both Mayor Bob McDavid and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser worried that putting some lines underground might create friction and further debate about where the lines should be buried.
"Ad hoc, a la carte undergrounding is going to be quite contentious," McDavid said.
"Probably the vast majority of people surveyed thought it would be best to be underground by their home rather than the grocery store they pass by," Nauser said.
The council will hold a public hearing on the topic at its July 15 meeting.
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