Greenwood property owner files complaint in bid to stop Duke Energy substation

A formal complaint has been filed by a local property owner in his fight to stop Duke Energy Indiana from using eminent domain to build a new power substation on the Bargersville-Greenwood line.

Duke Energy plans to build a new power substation on an 8.82-acre site on Whiteland Road near State Road 135. The land is owned by Whetstone Branch LLC, and Duke Energy is taking it via eminent domain for the project, said Michael Stout, manager of Whetstone Branch.

Stout and Whetstone Branch do not want the utility to take the land, nor to build the substation on it. The site is part of a roughly 117-acre parcel that Whetstone Branch was planning to develop for commercial, residential or mixed-use developments.

Whetstone Branch LLC formally filed a complaint with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission about the utility’s plans on Aug. 31, a few days after Stout first told the Daily Journal about his opposition to Duke’s plans. Stout and Whetstone Branch believe the location is unsuitable, citing reasons such as how the substation would conflict with land use plans and how it would be near “substantial” residential and commercial development.

Duke Energy plans to build a new power substation on an 8.82 acre site on Whiteland Road near State Road 135. The owner of the land has filed a complaint with state regulators to stop the utility from building the substation. Provided by Michael Stout

Stout was also concerned about safety, saying he believed it was unsafe to put the substation near housing developments. Several housing projects are either already existing, being built or planned to be near the substation.

In August, Stout circulated a letter detailing Whetstone Branch’s Opposition. Saying the land is “high-value commercial land,” Whetstone Branch argues the substation would be an eyesore for the community and negatively impact property values.

They also asked neighbors if they wanted to join the request for review before the IURC, sending them a form to sign. Eighty property owners had signed onto the complaint when it was filed on Aug. 31.

That number has since increased. As of Friday, 102 property owners have opted into the action, Stout said via email.

In the Aug. 31 complaint by “Johnson County Concerned Citizens” — the name given to Stout and other concerned property owners — they asked for the immediate suspension of Duke Energy’s planning, site work and construction of the substation. For the basis of the complaint, they said the construction of the facilities would encroach on an existing easement held by the town of Bargersville.

The town owns underground water facilities beneath the area where the substation is planned, and the construction of a substation would violate the terms of the easement, and both interfere with access to and impair the Bargersville Water Utility’s ability to provide adequate water service, the complaint alleges. This would adversely impact the health and safety of customers.

The complaint also cites traffic concerns that come with placing the substation along Whiteland Road, which is one of the few east-west connectors from Interstate 65 to Interstate 69. Traffic volume is expected to increase with the likely widening of Whiteland Road, and placing the substation will increase the threat to public safety by “increasing the chances of accidents that result in injury or property damage,” it says.

Johnson County Concerned Citizens also discussed their concerns about placing it near housing developments, saying it could create “potentially harmful” conditions due to overhead transmission lines, equipment and drainage basins. Other bases cited were property values, along with the utility’s insistence on building the substation despite “overwhelming opposition,” the complaint shows.

The complainants asked the IURC to issue an order to immediately suspend Duke Energy’s planning and construction for the site, pending the final resolution of the case. They also asked for the commission to conduct an investigation into Duke Energy’s conduct and to order them to build the substation, if a need exists, “at a site determined to be suitable.”

This annotated map by Michael Stout shows upcoming housing and apartment developments to be built in the area surrounding the proposed Duke Energy substation near Whiteland Road and State Road 135. Provided by Michael Stout

Duke Energy has not yet responded to the IURC filing. However, a utility spokesperson told the Daily Journal last month that the new substation was needed because of increasing demand on the electrical grid. The new substation was expected to increase the reliability of electrical service in the area.

Before choosing the site, the utility engaged in “extensive siting studies and engineering” to determine the appropriate location based on several considerations, said McKenzie Barbknecht, a Duke Energy spokesperson. Those studies determined that the substation should be placed near the intersection of either State Road 135 and Smokey Row Road or State Road 135 and Whiteland Road to improve service, she said.

Duke Energy officials do not believe that the substation could be a safety risk. The utility’s substations are set back at a safe distance from the road and are surrounded by security fencing, Barbknecht said.

Last month, Barbknecht said that as plans for the project advanced, Duke Energy would “continue to keep an open dialogue with the community and reach out to neighbors to keep them informed.” Residents with questions were encouraged to reach out by calling 800-820-9362 or by emailing [email protected].

A pre-hearing conference and preliminary hearing for the IURC case is set for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 25 in Room 222 of the PNC Center, 101 W. Washington St., Indianapolis.