Residents of Sun City Vistoso knew that Tucson Electric Power Company wanted to build a substation beneath the power lines spanning the neighborhood and running north into the desert and Pinal County.
Few of them expected what the company had in store.
The substation could power thousands of additional homes and provide a badly needed boost to circuits in the already overloaded area.
TEP previously told residents and Oro Valley’s leaders that thousands of homes in Rancho Vistoso risk power outages unless the utility could add more capacity to its Northwest grid.
The problem for some Sun City residents, however, lies with the proposed site of the power station — directly behind their houses. (Click here for a map.)
“We would like to see them move it farther away from us,” said Elaine Smith-Guiraud, who lives at the far north end of the massive development.
The substation would stand about 700 feet from her and husband Bob Guiraud’s backyard.
The possibility of a 2.5-acre substation just paces from their home presents a host of concerns for the couple.
They worry that the proposed substation and the 10-foot wall that would surround it might lower their property’s value.
In addition, they wonder if the electric and magnetic fields that radiate from substations could harm their health.
Plus, once the utility flips the switch on the planned substation, the Guirauds anticipate hearing the constant, low hum of electricity coursing through circuitry.
“All we are asking is that they move it a little farther north,” Smith-Guiraud said.
The situation also troubles neighbor Bobby Streb, whose backyard looms even closer to the proposed substation site.
Streb thinks that TEP’s plan subverts Oro Valley’s intended annexation of the state-owned Arroyo Grande property to the north.
“They’re trying to slip this in before the annexation,” Streb said.
Negotiations for the annexation of Arroyo Grande, a 14-square-mile state-owned property, have been on track for two years.
As part of the developing agreement, the town and the Arizona State Land Department earlier this year agreed to keep a 4-mile long strip of land directly north of Sun City Vistoso free of development.
Following an Arizona Game and Fish Department study that identified the area as a wildlife corridor, state and town officials incorporated the animal pathway into its maps of Arroyo Grande.
But all that came after TEP chose the site for the substation.
Now, despite a recent Oro Valley Town Council vote prohibiting construction of the substation in the wildlife corridor, the utility provider appears determined to build there.
TEP likely would be allowed to build there, too, since the town hasn’t annexed the property and holds no jurisdiction over the land.
Representatives of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, an area conservation group, also have entered the fray.
The group recently asked TEP to consider alternatives to building in the wildlife corridor.
“Short of that, we would like some sort of off-site mitigation,” said Carolyn Campbell, the group’s executive director.
Campbell has lobbied Oro Valley and the state to incorporate conservation measures in the annexation deal.
Anticipating that TEP will build the substation as planned, Campbell said her group proposed that the utility buy conservation land near Catalina State Park to lessen its impact.
“We’re already crossing our fingers that one kilometer is enough,” Campbell said, referring to the width of the proposed wildlife corridor.
TEP has not yet responded to Campbell’s request.
“We feel the proposed plant is compatible with the wildlife corridor,” TEP spokesman Art McDonald said.
He described the location as the company’s preferred site for the substation for economic reasons.
“The farther away from where your customers are, the more it costs,” McDonald said.
The power company’s intention to build a substation in the area dates to 1979.
That plan became clear to Sun City residents last year when, through one of its affiliate companies, TEP bought a house on the northern edge of the neighborhood.
The company had intended to exploit the property’s proximity to the desert and planned substation. But the house stood in the way.
Company officials had originally intended to demolish the house and in its place plant trees, install park benches and build a small road for utility vehicles to access the substation.
Shortly after TEP revealed its demolition plans, Sun City’s neighborhood association informed the power company that community bylaws prevented the house’s destruction.
“We’ve dismissed that possibility,” said TEP’s McDonald.
McDonald said the company likely would hold onto the house until the real estate market recovers. Still, TEP seems poised to continue with construction plans, having last year submitted a right-of-way request to the state land department.
The state forwarded the application to Pima County for comment.
In a December 2007 analysis, county officials found no reason to oppose TEP’s request.
Oro Valley Town Manager David Andrews said his office has contacted the state land department to find out if they intend to allow the substation to go forward.
“We want to know what, if any, agreement has been made between Tucson Electric Power and the state land department,” Andrews said.
They are waiting to get an official response.
Before TEP breaks ground on the substation, Sun City residents Streb and Smith-Guiraud hope they can convince the company and state officials to attend a neighborhood meeting and possibly consider a compromise.
“We live here,” Smith-Guiraud said. “Where does the human factor come in?”