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TEP: We're still looking at various options regarding a new inner-city power-line route

On behalf of Tucson Electric Power, I'd like to clarify a few matters regarding a transmission-line project referenced in a recent Tucson Weekly article ("Inner-City Blues," Jan. 28) about the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood.

It's unfortunate that TEP's viewpoints weren't included in the story, even though we provided them to another Weekly writer in advance of publication. While we've gladly discussed this project and many other topics with other Tucson Weekly reporters, the writer of this particular story has consistently disparaged TEP—even leveling personal attacks on our employees—while disregarding relevant facts and misstating our positions on numerous issues.

We decided long ago to stop answering questions from this writer, and we remain hopeful that the Weekly will recognize that his clear bias against TEP compromises his ability to fairly cover any issue that involves our company.

As the story noted, TEP is making plans for a new 138-kilovolt (kV) line (the story said 138 volts, an error since corrected) that would link a substation near East Grant Road and Interstate 10 to our Tucson substation in the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood. The line, expected to be complete by the end of 2011, is needed to maintain reliable service amid rising energy demands.

TEP develops new transmission lines through a process that includes extensive participation from area residents, government officials and other stakeholders. The input we receive plays a significant role in determining the proposed routes and other aspects of these projects.

In this case, TEP's project team has met throughout the design process with residents from the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood and other areas where the line might be located. We've gathered input, shared information and addressed concerns as we've developed potential routes for the new transmission line. We've also distributed updates through several newsletters and posted route maps and other details on the Transmission Line Projects area of TEP's Web site (www.tep.com).

Still, it's easy to see how some misunderstandings about a project of this scope might persist. If the new line is built along 11th Avenue, the conductors would typically be more than 25 feet away from any homes and would not be closer than 16 feet to any building—despite concerns expressed by one resident in the Weekly's story that the line could approach within 8 feet of homes. And while some Dunbar/Spring residents might feel their situation is unique, TEP actually operates 138-kV lines in similar proximity to homes in other locations around town.

As the story notes, residents have expressed concern about the health effects of electric and magnetic fields, or EMFs, associated with electric transmission lines. Although research into possible impacts is ongoing, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and other government agencies do not consider EMFs a proven health hazard. Information on relevant government research is available on Web sites for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (niehs.nih.gov) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov).

In addition to potential routes that would follow the path of an existing 46-kV line along 11th Avenue, TEP is considering a route developed in partnership with Dunbar/Spring residents that would avoid 11th Avenue entirely. That alternative is not without complications, however. It would cost more than twice as much as other alternatives—a cost that ultimately would be borne by TEP customers across the city. That route also would require the use of three 170-foot-tall transmission towers and four 155-foot-tall poles—taller than any other utility poles in our city—to carry the line away from the Tucson substation and over Interstate 10.

That said, TEP is still considering that route along with a number of viable alternatives. After gathering additional feedback, we'll identify a preferred route and at least one alternative. Our application will be reviewed in a public hearing by the Arizona Power Plant and Transmission Line Siting Committee, and that group's decision will be subject to review by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

A map of the proposed routes and other information about the line will be available for review during a public open house scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 24, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., in the cafeteria of Richey Elementary School, 2209 N. 15th Ave.

Joe Salkowski is the director of corporate communications for Tucson Electric Power.

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