I want power. You want power. All God’s childrenor at least most Americans of this high-tech agewant power. We demand electricity to run our air conditioners in the summer and our furnaces in the winter. We crave current for our TVs and VCRs, our CD and tape players, our computers, and answering machines. We are addicted to the juice that flows through the lines, lines that grid the sky over our heads.
But in the lines, and the poles that carry the lines, lies the rub. The Nashville Electric Service wants to run a mega-powerline on a mega-pole down Sharondale Drive, a residential street that runs parallel to the southwestern edge of I-440. The citizens of Sharondale want the line buried under the street. They say that residents on the northeastern side of Sharondale already have two giant powerlines in their backyards. They fear damage to their trees, and to their property values, if NES hems them in to the front as well.
NES is in the business of delivering electricity to our machines for living. To respond to our gradually escalating power usage, NES is building the Central Power Loop, part of a 20-year plan to prevent outages during times of peak demand. The Loop will be composed of 161-kilovolt (KV) lines connecting NES substations in a rough circle through the city. In the southern segment of the Loop, the lines will follow the soundwall along the I-440 corridor.
But to run a 161KV line between the Battlefield and Sharondale substations, NES must relocate one of two existing 69KV lines currently hanging above the I-440 soundwall. NES proposes stringing this line onto 95-foot poles along Sharondale Drive. From these same new poles, NES plans to string a new 13.8KV line to distribute power directly to the houses in the neighborhood. NES says it must complete this work by the end of 1999 because the existing transmission system will exceed its emergency capacity after that date.
Sharondale residents went ballistic after NES urban forester Glenn Springer tied ribbons around 154 trees that would but cut or pruned in NES’ worst-case scenario. Springer has since produced a best-case scenario that involves 66 trees, but many residents still fear the worst.
In response to all the ribbons, the residents formed Save Our Sharondale. S.O.S. is calling for NES to bury both lines alongside phone and water conduits already under the street. NES says that going underground is too expensivethe difference between $200,000 and $1.2 million to $1.6 million for the higher-voltage line alone. It costs 21 cents a foot for overhead cable, and $21 a foot to bury it underground, NES says.
Elaine Robinson, NES vice-president for public affairs, admits that the extra million or so to bury lines on Sharondale would have a negligible impact on electric rates. But if NES goes underground for one street, what happens next time?
“It’s a serious equity issue,” Robinson says. “Why should we [bury lines] on Sharondale, when we didn’t do it for East Nashville?”
Metro Councilman David Kleinfelter, who represents the citizens of Sharondale, counters, “I would be surprised if this situation is not unique. These people are being asked to take three separate mega-circuits through their neighborhood. The trees on Sharondale will look like Edward Scissorhands has been at work after they get finished.”
Glenn Springer is a knowledgeable tree man who admits that NES pruning policies of the past often cut too broad a path of destruction. He says new, more tree-sensitive policies are now in place, and that he will personally supervise the necessary pruning on Sharondale.
But Springer can’t be everywhere. The pruning job done recently to the trees flanking the 69KV line along the north side of Hillsboro Road between Sharondale Drive and Woodmont Boulevardthe same kind of line that NES wants to run along Sharondaleis enough to turn even the most miserly ratepayer into a tree-hugger. NES may have new tree policies on paper, but there is little evidence of them on the ground.
There is hyperbole on both sides of the NES/S.O.S. controversy. Some NES officials claim that burying their lines could produce the kind of construction impact felt with the excavation for I-440. And an S.O.S. brochure pleading the case for underground lines describes Sharondale as an “inner city neighborhood,” which the residents of East and North Nashville would undoubtedly be surprised to hear.
The truth is that the residents of Sharondale, who have already taken the hit of I-440, are now being asked to take the hit of mega-powerlines. What is troubling is that neighborhoods down the powerlines of the future may be asked to take similar hits. And these neighborhoods, perhaps poorer and less self-confident, may get the worst because they don’t yell about it.
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