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Not in our backyard: Clemson residents, council object to Duke Energy’s plans to build power plant

Courtesy of Tanya Hyatt

Lauren Hyatt, 12, creates a poster for the Open House. Her family’s property backs up to the proposed power plant site.

Duke Energy Carolinas has proposed the construction of a $50.8 million power plant on Clemson University’s campus, and some local residents are upset.
The 16-megawatt power plant, which would burn natural gas and include two 75-foot-tall emission stacks, is proposed to be built on the east side of the university’s campus.
The site is close to residences on Roslyn Drive and Vineyard Road and is behind the National Guard Armory on U.S. 76.
Residents said they were unaware of plans to build the power plant until two weeks ago, when resident Curtis Arnold stumbled upon an article about the plant in the Charlotte Business Journal.
Arnold told The Tiger that he reached out to the university, who directed him to Campus Utilities Director Tony Putnam. Putnam gave him some additional information about the plant as well as contact information for Duke Energy.
Arnold, along with residents Peter Hyatt and Spencer Bryan, met with Duke Energy officials on Friday, March 31. That’s when they found out about the plant’s site, which is approximately 100 feet from their residences.
Arnold said he is concerned about the siting process and the potential impact on adjacent wetlands.
“Putting that facility so close to a residential area just doesn’t match what a normal siting for a power plant or any industrial facility would normally be,” he said. “The proof of standard and so forth should be much higher than what we’ve apparently had.”
Arnold added that he hasn’t “seen any sort of document that either Duke or Clemson has that addresses what sort of siting requirements they used beside this is where they wanted to put it.”
Resident Tanya Hyatt, whose husband, Peter, met with officials, said she is concerned about the power plant’s effects on the water supply and the noise it will generate.
“[There are also] children with autism, and having a power plant is going to be noisy,” Hyatt said. “Duke Energy said that they have run sound tests and that there will be some noise, but we don’t really know because they’re not telling us.”
Close to 30 residents, including seven children, also voiced their concerns during city council’s meeting on Monday, April 3. During the meeting, Mayor J.C. Cook told residents that the city didn’t learn about the plans until earlier that day.
Cook told The Tiger that a citizen sent him an email about the power plant on the afternoon of Monday, April 3 and that he initially misunderstood what the email meant.
“I thought the person was talking about what they [Duke Energy] had said earlier about upgrading the substation and upgrading their lines,” Cook said.
Cook said that Duke Energy came to city council two months ago about plans to upgrade the substation and transmission lines.
“There was nothing mentioned in that presentation about a new power plant,” he said.
Cook said he emailed a representative from Duke Energy asking about the plant.
“They replied to me that at the time they made their presentation … they had not made any kind of contract. They were still in negotiation with Clemson University about building this power plant, so there was nothing concrete that they could report to us, so they just didn’t report anything to us … other than telling us that they were in negotiation and looking for a site.”
During its meeting last week, city council passed a resolution stating its opposition to the project, citing “… potential for health and safety impacts, environmental and wetland damages, property value diminution and increased noise, light pollution and traffic” as reasons to oppose the plan and that “Duke Energy representatives knowingly omitted to share plans for the size and siting of the Power Plant.”
Cook added that the city council isn’t opposed to the power plant, but its location.
“We understand when you need to upgrade your infrastructure to take care of people because the city has to do the same thing with water and [sewage] and everything else,” Cook said. “Putting it right next to a single family neighborhood to me is not the best place to put something like this.”
City Attorney Mary McCormac is also exploring any legal options that the city may have. However, the city is limited in what it can do because the land in question is university property and not subject to the city’s zoning and planning rules.
“I was just disappointed that they would do that and not look for input from local residents and the local government,” Cook said.
Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said the company submitted notice of the project to local newspapers. A document filed by Duke Energy to the S.C. Public Service Commission (PSC) on April 4 shows that a notice was placed in four local newspapers between March 15-20.
“Our intent was never to leave out the community, and we are pleased to help address any questions … at our community open house on the topic,” Mosier said. “Working in close partnership with Clemson University, we will absolutely be keeping the community apprised of our progress going forward.”
The open house will be held on Monday, April 10 at 7 p.m. at Clemson Presbyterian Church.
Plans for the power plant have been in the works for a while. During its April 2016 meeting, the Clemson University Board of Trustees approved leasing approximately 1.35 acres to Duke Energy for the power plant. According to minutes from the meeting, the motion to approve the leases was unanimous.
“The CHP [combined heat and power] plant will allow Clemson to repurpose its less-efficient fuel oil/natural gas steam boilers for supplemental use only, reducing the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” Clemson University spokesman John Gouch said. “The facility will help Clemson University meet its environmental goals to become carbon neutral by 2030, as outlined in the university’s Sustainable Energy Policy and Sustainability Action Plan.”
Duke Energy plans to use excess heat from the plant to produce steam, which it will sell to the university for heating campus buildings. In addition, a new electrical substation, which would provide electricity to the city and campus, would be located adjacent to the site.
Duke Energy does not need approval from the S.C. PSC to build the power plant because it is smaller than 75 megawatts and therefore does not qualify as a “major utility facility.” The company did, however, ask the commission to approve the steam contract without notice or a hearing in its application filed on Feb. 21.
The commission voted unanimously to deny Duke Energy’s request for waiver of notice and hold in abeyance, or temporarily put on hold, its request for approval without hearing on March 8.
This gives anyone who opposes the project until April 17 to write the S.C. PSC and voice his/her opinion.
At the time of publication, 16 residents have sent letters to the commission about the project.
The commission will review those letters and determine whether or not to hold a public hearing. If the commission decides to hold a hearing, it will occur at its offices in Columbia and will be within the following 30 days.
Duke Energy has also proposed a 21-megawatt natural gas project at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, though talks on that project are currently on hold after several student and faculty groups, as well as local and state environmental groups, objected to the plans.

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