Columbia City Council approves controversial electric transmission lines

Monday, July 15, 2013 | 11:54 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Despite a majority of opposition among those who spoke at a public hearing at the Columbia City Council meeting Monday night, the council voted 5-2 in favor of a route for new power transmission lines.

The new route, labeled Option A by city planners, would connect homes to the new Mill Creek load-serving power substation. The council also agreed that it would not fund an idea to bury the lines underground at certain parts of the route.

The route includes the addition of a 161-kilovolt transmission line between the Perche Creek electric substation and interconnecting lines to power the Mill Creek substation.

The new Mill Creek substation, located on Peach Court in south Columbia, and the new power lines were proposed in response to increased strain on the city's electric grid due to population growth.

Several meetings, public hearings and public surveys were conducted throughout a planning process that took more than a year of proposing routes and listening to public input. City planners ultimately came up with three improvement options for the council to consider.

Columbia Water and Light staff proposed the adoption of Option A. The staff considers this option to be the most economical and reliable long-term solution to the city’s power issues, according to a city memo. The majority of council members agreed.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said any disagreement among council members came from whether or not to put the lines underground. He said it was an aesthetic issue, and public concerns regarding health effects had been "debunked." Skala also said not many communities have underground 161-kilovolt lines.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said that considering underground power lines would create problems in the future when determining where undergrounding would and would not take place.

“I wouldn’t want it next to me, but it’s going to be by somebody," Mayor Bob McDavid said.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser both voted against the power line route, because they were considered that citizens had only supported Option A with the understanding that there would be undergrounding of the transmission lines.

With the selection of Option A, the new substation will act as a common terminal between three different substations. Transformers at the new substation will serve the distribution load at the 161-kilovolt level.

Tad Johnson, director of Water and Light, said a more detailed design will now be planned and that it would include cost estimate and a funding plan. Funding for the project is planned to come from the sale of future revenue bonds that will spread the costs of these improvements to future users through increased electricity bills.

Overhead lines will cost much less than underground lines would have, according to a city memo. Currently, the Capital Improvement Program has $2.3 million appropriated for design and construction of the new substation connection and system transmission improvements.

In a public hearing held before the council voted, a majority of the speakers opposed Option A and overhead power lines. They cited safety, aesthetic and property value concerns.

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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