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Progress on transmission line project may delay federal fines

A city councilwoman believes progress made to build a transmission line should stave off federal fines for electric reliability.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, along with three other members of the Columbia City Council, voted on January 19 to re-examine a high-voltage transmission line project planned for south city. Columbia Water & Light said the city needed to add more 161-kilovolt lines to several substations in south Columbia to meet federal reliability standards on “contingencies,” or instances where a power outage or equipment malfunction causes blackouts in the city. Department spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said before that the federal agency can charge fines up to a million dollars a day. Nauser, who acknowledged the necessity of the project, said the federal government tries to avoid using the “heavy hand,” as long as the city can prove its working to remedy the issue.

“As long as you’re working and making progress on the issue, then I think that kind of satisfies some of their concerns,” Nauser said. “I’m not saying we can put this off for another five or ten years. I think within the year, we should have this issue resolved.”

Nauser voted against the chosen route in 2013, citing the impact the 100-foot metal poles would have on properties along it. Water & Light recommended the council approve “Option A,” which runs west from the Grindstone substation to a new substation north of Rock Bridge High School, then several miles west to the Perche Creek substation off Scott Boulevard. She told ABC 17 News Wednesday she wanted to re-open to project after several of her constituents in southwest Columbia felt misled about the size, shape and placement of the poles on the route. Nauser said she hoped city staff and SEGA, Inc., the contractor working on the project, could think “outside the box” to find a way to impact the least amount of people with the power lines.

Water & Light favored “Option A” for its use of only 161-kV lines, in contrast to other proposals mix of 69-kV lines. The first option, Kacprowicz said, would need less maintenance and substation work to provide the necessary electric capacity. Nauser said she questioned the city’s projection on electricity use, lower than the 2007 model anticipated.

“Everything seemed to be working around ‘Option A’ being the most preferred option,” Nauser said. “And so, I think it’s good to go back and see what were some of those other plans and some of those other ideas.”

SERC Reliability Corporation, the agency in charge of monitoring Columbia’s power system, has a routing audit scheduled for the city in September, according to the group’s outreach coordinator Linda Peavy.

City Manager Mike Matthes recommended discussing the project at a pre-council work session. So far, no such session has been scheduled.

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