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TECO moves forward with power line plans in Lithia

LITHIA

They couldn't stop TECO from expanding its power station.

Now some FishHawk Ranch homeowners fearful of 10-story electrical transmission poles being built near their homes are pinning their hopes on Florida's Public Service Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

TECO announced plans to expand its power station in southwest Polk County last week.

Part of that expansion would include running new transmission lines to a proposed substation at Balm Boyette Road and County Road 672 in Wimauma. The lines would extend from that substation to an existing substation at FishHawk Boulevard, Boyette Road and Lithia Pinecrest Road.

The power lines will run through a 1-mile corridor of TECO-owned land between the Bridges community in FishHawk and the Channing Park development.

Residents say the transmission lines would be an eyesore and depreciate the value of homes already suffering from slumping values. They would prefer to see the cables run underground, a much more expensive option, according to TECO.

"People had no idea when they moved in that they were buying beside a power line transmission corridor," said Christie VanVleet, a FishHawk mom who has been among those leading the fight against TECO's proposals.

Opponents of TECO's plans are considering two options, VanVleet said.

Some would like to continue the fight and make their case before the Public Service Commission, but VanVleet doesn't hold out much hope for the commission.

"We don't want to quit, but we have talked with others who have been through that process and homeowners have never had much success there," she said.

Instead, she favors participating in the design process and continuing to meet with TECO and Newland Communities, FishHawk's builder.

"But we really need Newland to stand behind us," she said.

In a prepared statement, Newland senior vice president Rick Harcrow said, "Newland remains committed to assisting our residents and TECO with design alternatives."

VanVleet also would like to see the state mandate more disclosure from builders and TECO in the future, with maps detailing all future plans for possible above-ground power lines.

"This was a case of very bad disclosure," she said.

Residents of Lithia, Wimauma and FishHawk first heard of the proposals in March when TECO sent letters to hundreds of homes detailing its plans. Opposition spawned large public meetings attended by about 250 residents, meetings with local politicians and a torrent of messages on "Stop Power Lines NOW," a Facebook page with 458 fans.

TECO says it needs to expand to accommodate customer growth and to replace purchased-power agreements that are due to expire. The $700 million expansion of the Polk County plant on State Road 37 would generate 500 jobs at its peak, according to the company.

"Expanding the Polk Power Station provides the best value to customers based on cost, reliability and flexibility, as well as environmental performance," said Gordon Gillette, president of Tampa Electric, in a news release announcing the decision.

If the project is approved — the Public Service Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection still have to approve the idea — Tampa Electric will expand the plant by about 460 megawatts, or enough electricity to power more than 100,000 homes.

TECO plans to file with the Public Service Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection within weeks, said Cherie Jacobs, a TECO spokeswoman. The company expects rulings from both agencies next year.

The company is "committed to working with residents through the design process," Jacobs said. That is expected to begin in 2014.

TECO did study burying the transmission lines behind the Bridges but found it cost "10 times" more when compared with traditional above-ground cables, Jacobs said. The idea had not been ruled out however, she added.

Times staff writer Ernest Hooper contributed to this report. Kevin Brady can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

TECO moves forward with power line plans in Lithia 08/30/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 4:30am]
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