Underground Electric Power Lines Could Cost One Billion Dollars
New report says a D.C. investment of $1 billion for underground electric power lines could avoid 65 percent of potential future power outages. The recently updated budget shortfall makes such an investment unlikely any time soon.
In a public hearing Thursday at the Woodrow Wilson Building, citizens, council members and utility regulators all broadly agreed on the benefits of running electric power lines underground in the District of Columbia.
The hearing, held by Ward 4 councilmember Muriel Bowser, addressed the feasibility of such a plan and questioned the reliability of Pepco, which provides electricity to all Washington residents. The Public Service Commission, which regulates the city's utilities, presented a report from Shaw Consulting International Inc., the consulting firm it hired to analyze and determine the best way to adopt an underground grid.
The report recommended a more than $1 billion plan to build underground electric power lines in the District of Columbia, claiming it would be enough to avoid 65 percent of potential future power outages. Most power outage incidents occurred on "primary" lines, the largest lines that run on major streets like Georgia Ave., NW.
Much of the cause for power outages is attributed to raging summer storms that cause trees to fall and knock out power lines, but a few residents who testified at the hearing relayed stories of their power shutting off for now reason. Their testimonies painted a picture of small, unreliable pockets of the city where the power turns on and off without will. Former Ward 8 councilmember Eydie Whittington said random power outages in her residence on Savanna Place, SE wrecked her microwave, TV, security camera and Jacuzzi.
"Pepco told me that they weren't responsible for the claim, that it was an act of God," Whittington said.
Pepco has stated that it takes all concerns on a case-by-case basis.
Others testified against Pepco's practice of trimming trees to leave room for raised power lines.
"I think they've concluded that if you want electricity, you can't have trees," said William Chip, who testified for the Massachusetts Avenue Heights Citizens Association. "It's a huge cost to the city. Neighborhoods with lots of trees are turning into neighborhoods with lots of wire."
No consensus remains on how to pay for an underground grid, especially for a city facing up to $175 million in shortfalls. Some ideas raised include charging more to ratepayers, charging more to all taxpayers and choosing a more integrated approach that combines both.