The Washington Post

Cost drives power line task force meeting

The District group assembled to consider burying power lines in the city met Thursday afternoon, with members spending much of their first meeting discussing the financial viability of putting the cables underground.

Pepco and the D.C. Public Service Commission gave presentations on the city’s electricity distribution, outlining how many customers were affected by the recent derecho storm and studies about burying more power lines. More than 70 percent of the city already has its primary power lines underground, Pepco and PSC representatives said.

No votes were taken during the meeting.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray appointed the 15-member Power Line Undergrounding Task Force to explore the idea of burying power lines in the wake of storms that left hundreds of thousands without power and prompted criticism of Pepco’s emergency response.

A majority of District residents believe Pepco did an unsatisfactory job restoring power after June’s violent storm, according to a Washington Post poll. But there is little consensus over burying power lines.

“I don’t know whether undergrounding of the lines is ultimately the answer. It’s certainly the highly desirable solution,” said Gray, who attended part of the meeting. “The feasibility of that especially from the financial perspective is one of the things we’re asking this task force to be able to look at.”

Financing is the biggest issue in front of the task force. Burying the lines could cost as much as $1.1 billion, according to a 2010 study by Shaw Consultants International Inc., a Baton Rouge, La.-based energy consulting firm. Pepco said underground lines cost between $2 million to $5 million per mile to install, compared to overhead lines, which cost between $100,000 to $200,000 per mile.

The task force is also weighing the use of overhead lines, which are more exposed to storm and wind destruction but take less time to repair. Underground lines are less exposed, but could take crews longer to fix when damaged.

The task force is chaired by City Administrator Allen Y. Lew and Pepco Holdings Chairman Joseph Rigby. It includes representatives of the PSC and utilities with overhead lines; two residents from Ward 3 and Ward 7; and the Office of the People’s Counsel.

The members have until Jan. 31 to come up with recommendations and are hoping to meet each month to give committee updates.

“There’s no higher priority on my list than to serve all of our customers with reliable power,” Rigby said.


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