Progress looks to build new transmission lines

EAST LAKE, FLORIDA - In the recent past, residents of Crescent Oaks subdivision have opposed one idea - now dead - to put athletic fields on neighboring preserve land.

And they've learned that Pinellas County plans to build a water-blending plant close by.

So when someone from Progress Energy recently told them that big transmission lines humming with high voltage electricity could be coming their way, too, residents couldn't help but worry.

"It's like the IRS saying, 'We're here to help you,'" Crescent Oaks resident Bob Loos said.

Relax, a Progress Energy Florida official said. It's much too soon in the decision-making process to start worrying.

The utility will decide whether to build a nuclear power plant in Levy County this year. If the plant is built, up to 10 counties will need new transmission lines to carry high-voltage electricity from the plant to four new substations where the voltage of the electricity would be lowered before going out to communities.

One of those lines could be near the Crescent Oaks subdivision - or not.

"We are considering various options, and it's too early to know how any particular community may be affected," Progress Energy Florida spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said.

At this point, Progress Energy Florida has yet to file a request with the Florida Public Service Commission to build the Levy County plant.

Still, the utility already is meeting with some homeowners to explain the project. In the next month or so, the utility plans to hold public information meetings in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Hernando and Polk counties.

"Folks can come and ask questions and see what we're proposing," Jacobs said. "It will be the beginning of a lengthy public involvement process."

At the Crescent Oaks homeowner's association meeting in January, Gail Simpson, Progress Energy Florida's manager for public policy and constituent relations, showed residents a map with two corridors about 10 miles wide fanning out from the possible Levy County plant. New or upgraded transmission lines would be located somewhere within the wide corridor, she said. One leg of the transmission line corridor travels southeast from the plant toward Leesburg. The other travels south from the plant, then turns east and continues along the Pasco/Hillsborough county line. In Pinellas, about 3 miles of the county's northeast corner is inside the southernmost corridor. And the general location of one possible substation is shown just outside Pinellas's northeast corner.

At the meetings, Progress Energy Florida plans to show residents that it has narrowed those corridors in some spots from 10 miles wide to 1 mile wide.

Existing transmission lines will be upgraded to carry a greater load as much as possible or new lines will be built in existing rights of way, Progress Energy Florida officials say. When existing lines are going in the right direction, they say, using them is the most cost-effective choice and causes less disturbance to the community and the environment.

The utility won't say where the existing transmission lines are in East Lake, but it's hardly a secret. One series of transmission towers runs north to south through Brooker Creek Preserve and crosses Keystone Road east of Crescent Oaks. Another cuts diagonally through the preserve, heading to the northwest near Ridgemoor.

As for new lines, Progress Energy's map shows a corridor cutting across the northeastern corner of Pinellas County.

At the Crescent Oaks meeting, Simpson couldn't tell homeowners what they most wanted to know: How close would any new transmission lines and a substation come to their neighborhood?

"When we got to specifics, she was very vague," Loos said. The fact that the utility met with Crescent Oaks homeowners led Loos to suspect that transmission lines and/or the substation would be close. He said some power lines run in Brooker Creek Preserve near the eighth hole of the Crescent Oaks golf course.

It's just something else to worry about, he said.

"Are they keeping it close to the vest because they don't know," he wondered, "or because they don't want to start getting early opposition too soon?"


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