Construction of new voltage lines spark concern

Nicole Schroeder

In 2007, the city of Columbia first raised concerns about the reliability of electricity and power transmission to the south side of town. In response to citizen complaints, Columbia Water and Light decided the best solution would be to begin work on a high voltage transmission line. The transmission line, when finished, will run through the area to increase the power supply to those customers and will carry approximately 131 kV of electricity compared to the 69 kV carried by normal power lines.
Now that the City Council has approved the project, Columbia Water and Light has finalized the route of the lines and determined the placement of the poles along the route, aiming to begin the project in 2017.
Members of the City Council ultimately chose Option A after considering other options, as it is expected to require the fewest number of renovations to the area in the future despite its extra cost.
After hosting an informational meeting on the project for city residents Oct. 5, however, people like Janette Henry, a 5th grade teacher at Mill Creek Elementary, have expressed concerns about the project.
“I not only teach at Mill Creek but also live across the street from the school. I am very concerned about these lines being installed, due to studies that show a correlation between the lines and childhood leukemia,” Henry said. “I don’t believe the lines belong in residential neighborhoods or near schools.”
The possible health effects Henry worries about exist in the low-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by high voltage power lines, which have been associated with increased rates of childhood leukemia and have subsequently been classified as a possible human carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization and International Agency for Cancer Research.
Despite these studies, Columbia Public Works Utility Services Specialist Connie Kacprowicz said such studies do not reveal a direct correlation between longtime exposure to EMF waves and childhood cancer. Furthermore, she said, the poles carrying the high voltage transmission lines will be tall enough to limit any exposure to EMF waves that may occur.
“These lines will be built overhead on structures that are about 100 feet tall, so that helps limit the EMF,” Kacprowicz said. “[Also] if you look at all the research that has been done — and this is over several decades, from the 1980s on through the ‘90s — a lot of research was done trying to see if there was some direct correlation between high voltage transmission lines [and one’s health] — which these are actually on the low end of high voltage transmission lines…. There were no clear cut conclusions that could be drawn between transmission lines and health concerns.”
Along with the health concerns associated with the power lines, junior Madelyn Jones said she worries about the aesthetic effects the project will bring to the area.
“I am curious if it is an initial cost savings because the overhead lines are susceptible to ice damage which would be additional cost to repair in the future. I think going underground is a better choice for possible health benefits, future cost and they are out of site, so they don’t make the skyline ugly,” Jones said. “I know that we need them but I would like to see the city consider burying them instead of having them overhead.”
Even with the health benefits and aesthetic concerns Jones and Henry share about the project, Kacprowicz said there are many parts of the project to look forward to, as they will help Columbia’s power supply in the long run.
“Even though [the transmission lines] are being built on the South side of the city, it’s going to help reduce the load on some of the existing substations,” Kacprowicz said. “[It will] also provide some redundancy in the system and meet the federal guidelines.”
Though she said she has tried to contact the City Council many times about her concerns for the transmission line project, Henry said her attempts were unsuccessful. Even with the possible benefits and convenience the extra power lines may provide, she said she believes there are too many potential downsides to the project to ignore.
“The response from some City Council members has been that they have made their decision and will not reconsider the placement of the lines.  I find this disturbing, since their decision was based on information only supplied by Columbia Water and Light,” Henry said. “While I agree that power is important, I think the lines need to be placed in a different location away from residences and schools.”