If anyone doubts the power that citizens possess when they speak with one voice, they need only observe Progress Energy's preferred corridor for new high-voltage transmission lines to carry electricity from a proposed nuclear plant in Levy County through Central Florida.
An early map of potential corridors showed possible paths through the Brooker Creek Preserve in Pinellas County and the Starkey Wilderness Park in Pasco County. Now there are no new lines or transmission towers in those two counties on Progress Energy's new map.
What happened in the interim? Environmental groups, a growing power base in the Tampa Bay area, flexed their muscles. Residents who simply appreciate nature spoke out too, warning the power company to stay away from nature preserves. Progress Energy put its engineers to work and found a path of less resistance. Credit the company with making the change and also designing a public vetting process that gave communities time to study the proposal and respond effectively.
Progress Energy wants to build two reactors on the Levy County coast, a few miles north of the Crystal River nuclear plant. The company presented its case for the nuclear facility to the Florida Public Service Commission in hearings last week, arguing that the estimated $17-billion project is essential to satisfy Florida's still-growing appetite for energy and to maintain reliable electric power in future years. Part of the approval process also requires Progress Energy to submit its preferred transmission corridor to state regulators early next month.
The map shows the transmission lines, mostly 230 and 500 KV lines, in three main segments: from Levy County east to Wildwood-Leesburg, from Levy County south to Hernando County, and from the Lake Tarpon substation near the Pinellas-Hillsborough line across Hillsborough County into Polk County.
Thousands of residents attended meetings with power company officials in recent weeks. In addition to demanding that the corridor avoid environmentally sensitive areas, they said the new lines and towers should be located in existing transmission corridors wherever possible. Company officials said they were able to do so for most of the proposed 200-mile-long corridor. However, some of the existing rights of way would have to be widened to accommodate the additional lines and some new right of way would be purchased. Progress Energy will send letters to 13,500 property owners who could be affected, although the final number will be far less.
Floridians want their lights to come on, their computers to power up and their air conditioners to pump cool air. But they also want to have input on where lines and towers are erected and to minimize the impact on their communities. Residents can check the Progress Energy Web site for updates and show up at meetings with power company officials. Speaking their minds can have an impact after all.