This question pops up all the time, and it’s a good question. It has a real answer too and real reasons. The answer is, probably not. Here’s what’s going on in Frisco — you decide if it’s an example we can follow.
Frisco, Texas, is dealing with the same issue we are. The area needs power, and their local power company, Brazos Electric, needs to run high-voltage transmissions lines through the city. Because of geography, Brazos has just two good options. One is residential and one is down main street in Frisco. Apparently, everyone there agrees that the main street is the best option. But people want them to bury the lines, and a movement has grown up on this issue.
The first important point is that the Frisco project has NOT yet been approved. The PUC has NOT approved the plan and in fact has put off making a decision for the past couple months.
The Frisco project started in 2013, and the question then was, can’t we bury them? The short answer is that burying them costs a lot more than elevating them. http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/in-frisco-its-pesky-residents-versus-brazos-in-a-fight-over-high-voltage-power-lines-7135621
Neighbors banded together and made a website and Facebook page: http://burythelines.org/. In this case, the city also is supportive, as well as the local energy co-op. Neighbors in this case worked together with a law firm to file jointly to intervenors. Neighbors also brought in expert testimony about the loss of home values that they would face. That testimony was thrown out! (Personally, I see this is a serious blow. Property value evidence is something we have, but the judges wouldn’t admit it in the case.)
Battle lines drawn over power lines in Frisco http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2015/06/24/battle-lines-drawn-over-power-lines-in-frisco/
Judges recommend Frisco be built above ground on Main Street http://friscoblog.dallasnews.com/2015/11/judges-recommend-west-frisco-transmission-lines-be-built-above-ground.html/
From burythelines.org: Transmission lines, unlike the power lines that typically run by homes (distribution lines) are more expensive to bury. Presently, Brazos/CoServ estimate 10x the cost. The cost of transmission lines are shared by all Texans, not just CoServ users. Given that, the Public Utility Commission (PUC) typically doesn’t approve buried routes. In this instance, however, the installation of above ground Transmission lines will interfere with our City’s ability to install needed infrastructure (e.g., changing Main from a 4, to a 6, lane road). It is possible the city may absorb a portion of the cost to bury these lines.
In the Frisco case, the lines have been recommended for Main Street. However, this would bar the city from expanding its main road. Imagine if Round Rock couldn’t expand a busy street. People would be livid. Also, this line would interfere with the city’s ability to upgrade a water main in the city. Again, that is a serious concern. The power company cannot trump a city’s right to offer water and safe streets.
Because of the road and water issues, the city of Frisco has offered to help pay to bury the lines. The city believes that burying the lines will allow it to expand the road as planned and work on the water line. The city says that because it already has the plan and money for those projects, it can contribute that money to the transmission line project and the projects can be coordinated or combined. The city also says that the Brazos plan did not offer to pay to use the city median, and the city would not allow that use for free. The city says that means the cost of elevated lines is underestimated.
City says burying lines can be cost efficient: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/frisco/headlines/20150719-frisco-to-brazos-burying-power-line-can-be-cost-effiicient.ece
City offers up to $12.4M to bury transmission lines: http://starlocalmedia.com/friscoenterprise/frisco-offers-up-to-m-to-bury-transmission-lines-in/article_f631bc2c-d5cd-11e5-b48f-ab04ff8532b9.html
Frisco’s controversial transmission line case goes before PUC: http://friscoblog.dallasnews.com/2016/03/friscos-controversial-transmission-line-case-goes-before-puc-on-thursday.html/
PUC puts off vote on landmark agreement (Here are the protestors in T-shirts): http://thescoopblog.dallasnews.com/2016/03/puc-puts-off-vote-on-proposed-agreement-for-transmission-line-route-in-frisco.html/
Decision on Frisco’s transmission line case delayed a second time: http://friscoblog.dallasnews.com/2016/04/ruling-expected-today-on-proposal-to-bury-transmission-line-along-friscos-main-street.html/
“My concern is that we don’t want to be undergrounding every line that comes before us,” (PUC Chairman Donna) Nelson said, noting that parties in other areas are already using Frisco’s case as a reason for their lines to be constructed underground.
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Hundreds of Frisco residents have also signed on to support the settlement for an underground line. They are opposed to having the massive poles alongside their high-density neighborhoods.
Nelson stressed that those concerns aren’t valid. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to underground for aesthetic reasons,” she said Thursday.
If neighbors want to, we can pursue burying the lines. That will be a long and expensive process. People should understand the “precedent” they are citing when when they suggest it because it is not yet a precedent and it is a very different case.
In our case, the city does not support burying the lines. I spoke to Joseph Brehm, who has been the city liaison on this project for years. He said the city would not support it because the city has these lines throughout the city, and it wouldn’t be fair to bury the lines for some homeowners and not others. Plus, it’s a cost issue. Here’s an excerpt from his email:
For the transmission line question I’ve attached a diagram below. The red line indicates the transmission line would measure approximately 2.26 miles long. The cost to construct above ground lines is between $2 and $4 Million per mile. For the Arterial H route as it comes through the neighborhoods, the above ground cost would be between $4.5 and $9 Million. The cost of which is bared by the electric rate payers whose companies use the LCRA infrastructure. The cost to bury the lines would be between $13.5 and $27 Million and you are correct, the City of Round Rock would have to come up with that money. Just to give you an idea of how that compares to the City’s budget, last year our entire budget for the police department was $28 Million.
Here’s an excerpt of a different email for Brehm, to the HOA:
The LCRA has been working on the cost estimates since the release of the preliminary route segments. All of that information will be accompanyingtheir application to the PUC and potentially affected property owners. The data tables are going to be where that information should be found. The cost to burry lines is estimated to be 5 to 10 times the cost to run the lines above ground. This is because the underground lines themselves are more expensive for heat dissipation and the cost to burrow linear feet versus drilling holes is higher. In that area there is a strong possibility of limestone and other strong sediments that would increase the cost to burrow the lines. Another point to consider is that any portions of line requesting to be buried need to be paid by the entity requesting the buried line, the PUC will not order the LCRA to bury the lines and have the rate payers absorb that cost. Once the estimates for each line segment everyone will have a better idea of the cost to bury the lines.
The best way to review the application and data associated with the project is to be on the LCRA’s Listserv for the project (I’m sure your group is already on that list). As soon as the application is submitted the Listserv will notify everyone on the list and provide a link to the entire application. I would highly suggest that the Save 1431 group and the HOA Boards be prepared to decide if they wish to apply to become an intervenor or submit a statement of position. When the application gets submitted affected property owners and groups will have a 45 day window to apply for intervenor status, however the Judge assigned to the case determines who will be granted that status. I understand that the hearing process that the Judge oversees is very similar to a trial. Testimony will be given by those granted intervenor status and then they may be cross-examined by other intervenors. I would not be surprised if your HOAs are contacted by attorneys who specialize in this kind of work offering their services for the hearing. I don’t know if the Judge or PUC would allow individual groups to meet with them outside of official hearings but I would doubt it.
I apologize for such a lengthy summary, but this is an important and complex issue. The Frisco fight has been long and hard and it’s not even over. There are important differences between our cases that would be play out in court and before the PUC. The PUC is already very leery of approving the Frisco project, and they are already concerned about people citing it as an example in future cases. To have the PUC even think about burying the line here, we would have to have at least as many reasons (and money!) as they do in Frisco.