Time to Consider Undergrounding Our Utility Lines?

  Susan Gary, Civic Association Director

By: Susan Keegan Gary, Civic Association Director

Florida Power and Light (FPL) will appear before our Town Council on October 14, 2014 to request permission to “harden” our utility poles. “Hardening,” in FPL parlance, means replacing the existing wooden poles with taller, concrete poles. The “hardened” lines will be above ground.

Now may be the time for residents and the town leadership to examine the feasibility of placing all utilities (along with phone, cable etc.) underground.

In January, 2014 our Civic Association sponsored a workshop on undergrounding at The Beach Club. Deputy Town Administrator Tom Bradford made the presentation and answered questions. Nearly 100 residents attended.  Mr. Bradford noted that the Town allows undergrounding as requested by individual residents or groups of residents from a particular street(s) if 67% of the affected residents agree.

Everglade Island residents coordinated with the Town to have their utilities placed underground. Mr. Bradford noted that it took about 2 ½ years to complete the process of securing residents permission, design, permitting and construction. The cost per home averaged $12,400.

There are several groups within the Town seeking to go through this process, including Ibis Isle, East Inlet and Indian, a section of Dunbar, Mockingbird, Nightingale and La Puerta, Biltmore condominium residents.

With all of this interest, is it time for the Town leadership to take a comprehensive approach to undergrounding for the entire Town?

There are certain compelling reasons to begin the process and look at this from a more global perspective:

  • FPL wants to “harden” our utility lines now at considerable expense; if this happens it would not be fiscally feasible, soon thereafter, to begin to bury the lines.
  • FPL offers a 25% discount on the cost of undergrounding if there is a three mile “pole loop” (a three mile loop of their poles)-- which goes to the issue of doing the undergrounding in larger sections than the current house-by-house or street- by- street approach.

powerlines 012

Public safety and security are the prime reasons we should consider this now. We all remember too well the hurricanes of Jeanne and Wilma. In the north end where we live, we lost power for consecutive three weeks. Residents at Palm Beach Towers report their power was out for two continuous weeks.

Notwithstanding the threat from storms, we lose power several times a month. This disrupts sensitive electronics, medical equipment and fire alarms, gas detectors and burglar alarms.

In 2009, the Town commissioned Willdan Financial Services to develop a methodology for assessing Town properties for the undergrounding of overhead utilities. A parcel database of all properties within the Town was developed which identified properties with overhead utilities versus neighborhoods that were already undergrounded.

The methodology would be the basis for establishing non ad-valorem assessments for undergrounding overhead facilities for neighborhoods throughout the Town.

The Willdan Report addresses the three prime reasons to underground:

  • Safety – reduces the potential for hazardous conditions when overhead lines fall during natural disasters and cause property damage. Downed live electric lines also pose the threat of fire and personal injury due to shock. Downed lines can also block first responders & residents.  Palm Beach Fire-Rescue Division Chief Brian Fuller reports that they respond to between 20 and 30 wire-down emergency calls a year on average in town.
  • Reliability – an Edison Electric Institute Report (2006) entitled Out of Sight Out of Mind?  reports that undergrounding substantially reduces the frequency of power outages.
  • Aesthetics – The report concludes that neighborhood aesthetics for all properties are improved by the removal of the overhead lines.

Is there anyone in Palm Beach who is not bothered by the tangle of lines and poles that blanket our otherwise beautifully manicured Town? The poles remind me of my travels to many “third world” locations.

The request by FPL before our Town Council on October 14th to “harden” our power poles, will challenge the Town and its residents to make a decision.

Underground Power Lines Out of Sight, But Not Perfect

Read More (Palm Beach Post) - Subscription Required