By MELODY JAMESON
BALM – Pointing to potentially higher demands for power in the near future, Tampa Electric Company is proposing a new substation and high voltage transmission lines here.
The utility displayed and discussed aspects of its proposal last week in Wimauma for area residents, some of them expressing concerns about possible impacts on their physical health or property values.
And, as those issues were being raised, one of the community’s most outspoken advocates assailed the very manner in which the company’s project was presented to its customers.
Looking ahead about five years, Tampa Electric is considering an expansion of its Polk Power Station on S.R. 37 in southwest Polk County to include a new substation facility near the Balm-Boyette Road just north of C.R. 672, in Balm. The project also would involve construction of about 40 miles of 230-kilovolt transmission line across Hillsborough County’s far southeastern corner which encompasses most of Balm.
The proposal is dubbed the Polk Power to Fishhawk Substation Line in the company’s April 2 letter to customers and property owners in the area. An accompanying map outlines five potential routes for a transmission line carrying 230,000 volts of electricity.
Each possible route would link an existing substation on Boyette Road near Fishhawk Boulevard, the proposed new substation close to the Boyette Road-Aspen Avenue intersection in Balm, another existing substation at State Roads 674 and 39 and the Polk power station just south of S.R. 640 in Polk County’s southwest corner.
Each of the five routes identified by the utility put the high voltage lines along Boyette Road from the Fishhawk substation south to the proposed new facility in Balm and along S.R. 674 from S.R. 39 east to S.R. 37 and then northeast to the Polk power station. The variations come into play when routing the transmission line from the new substation to S.R. 674, through the Balm community.
One scenario would place it just north of C.R. 672 on a generally straight alignment east to S.R. 39 and then south to S.R. 674. A second potential route places the transmission line north of 672 but then takes it south across the road and through rural area west of 39 before connecting with the Mines Substation at 674 and 39.
Yet another routing would put the power line on a southwest alignment from the new substation out to 674 and then eastward while a fourth would take it south along Carlton Lake Road to 674 and then east. Still another possibility dog legs the line south along the Balm-Wimauma Road to 674 and eastward.
In each instance, the line would be adjacent to scattered residential properties, interspersed with agricultural acreages and vacant land.
None of the routes, however, are settled, said Cherie Jacobs, Tampa Electric spokesperson. The utility anticipates that as the recession fades and economic conditions improve, demand for electrical power will increase, she added. In southeast Hillsborough, the company has adopted a five-year perspective, looking ahead to 2017.
Part of that perspective, Jacobs noted, is recognition that some of the contracts for purchase of electrical power that the utility has with other suppliers soon will expire. Consequently, the company is evaluating all options, looking for the most cost effective direction to meet the demand, which might be the Polk plant expansion.
A choice among the options could come in August, Jacobs indicated, when the company is to provide a Petition of Need to Florida’s Public Service Commission. She said that the costs of the entire project have not been pinned down.
Using the “open house” format which offers interested visitors visual descriptions of a project at various stations around a room, the utility conducted three public meetings on the proposed expansion during April. The two held prior to the Wimauma session were in Lithia and Fishhawk churches. Attendance at the Fishhawk meeting topped 100, Jacobs said, while 30 to 35 area residents attended each of the other two. Written comments made by those attending the three sessions centered on health related questions and property value impacts, she added.
There is “no consensus about the health impacts” of high voltage power lines, the spokeswoman said, noting that Florida regulates magnetic fields and that Tampa Electric complies with state standards. Jacobs also said she had no data regarding potential impacts on real estate values.
As some citizens pondered these matters, Marcella Osteen, Balm resident and immediate past president of the Balm Civic Association, voiced strong opposition to the open house format used by Tampa Electric for presentation of the project. The open house concept places the burden of obtaining factual information on those attending rather than on the host, she said. Citizens are forced to frame and ask the right questions in order to get full useful information instead of the company stepping up to provide it voluntarily, Osteen emphasized, and “if the right questions are not asked, the company can avoid providing data which could be important to citizens. Yet the company still appears to have conducted a reasonable public outreach.”
Jacobs pointed out that the open house format allows citizens to come and go at their convenience and to explore the displays that most interest them. “We appreciate all feedback,” she added.
Project Manager Arlee Jones, who discussed Osteen’s complaint with her, said later that he suggested she add her views on the open house format to a comment card “and I told her I would consider it when I review the comments.”
Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson