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Longboat Key Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 5 years ago

Town to debate burying power lines on the Key

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

The discussion on whether to bury power lines along Gulf of Mexico Drive has surfaced once again.

At the Longboat Key Town Commission’s regular workshop Monday, Dec. 10, Florida Power & Light Co. representatives will attend to discuss the possibility of burying the lines and present commissioners with associated costs.

Vice Mayor David Brenner has pushed for cost estimates since he became a commissioner.

“The power lines are ugly, and burying them as part of a long-term goal to beautify Gulf of Mexico Drive is something the town should be looking into,” he said.

Town Manager Dave Bullock asked FPL representatives to attend the workshop.

“We want to know what’s involved and what the costs to perform such a venture would be,” Bullock said.

FPL representative Dave McDermitt told the Longboat Observer his company has been installing underground service for approximately 40 years.

“More than 37% of our current system is already underground,” McDermitt said.

McDermitt said there has been increasing interest in recent years of communities looking into burying their power lines, both for aesthetic reasons and for increased reliability during adverse weather.

Advantages to underground power lines include better reliability in poor weather, fewer power interruptions and no poles or wires overhead.

Disadvantages include longer duration of outages when the power goes out; being more susceptible to outages due to flooding; longer repairs; and a shorter life expectancy than overhead services.

FPL has noted that after a hurricane it takes longer to restore power of underground power lines because the power lines and equipment are still flooded days after a storm.

FPL is still calculating the cost estimate for the town of Longboat Key to switch to underground facilities.
FPL schedules work to begin after a town, as the customer, provides payment.

It’s expected an underground conversion of power lines along an 11.5-mile stretch of Gulf of Mexico Drive would cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars.

FPL explains customers can make payments through special assessment on tax bills, establishing a municipal-service taxing unit or establishing an incremental-payment system.

Longboaters could choose whether to pay for the underground power lines by voting in a referendum.

“It’s something that’s important to look at and see if our residents are interested in paying for a more aesthetically pleasing Gulf of Mexico Drive,” Brenner said.

Underground Conversions Frequently Asked Questions
What is FPL’s standard service?
FPL and other utilities use the overhead standard established by the Florida Public Service Commission as the most cost-effective type of construction. However, we are open to putting lines underground provided the additional cost is covered by or for the customer. 

Why was overhead established as the standard? 
Overhead service was established as the standard construction for utilities because over time it has been the most cost-effective design. When alternatives such as underground service are requested by developers or mandated by cities, the customer benefiting from the alternative design pays the additional cost. 

Is FPL opposed to underground service? 
Absolutely not. Already more than one-third of the neighborhood power lines in FPL’s system are underground. However, we want our customers to understand the pros and cons of each type of service as it relates to performance, reliability and the cost of service, so they can make informed decisions if they are contemplating a change. 

What are the different strengths and weaknesses of overhead and underground service that affect performance and reliability? 
While underground facilities are not as susceptible to wind and debris-blown damage, they are more susceptible to water intrusion and local flood damage, which can make repairs more time-consuming and costly. Overhead facility damage is easier to locate than underground and can generally be repaired quicker. Underground interruptions may be less frequent, but typically last longer due to more complex repair requirements. Following recent hurricanes, we’ve found that areas that took the longest to repair were generally those served by underground facilities still flooded days after the storm passed. Damage and corrosion of underground electrical systems often shows up days or even months later, causing additional outages and inconvenience to customers. Storm winds can damage both types of systems, causing outages. Overhead systems face outages resulting from trees and debris blowing into lines. Underground systems face outages from trees collapsing on above-ground transformers and switch boxes or from tree root systems uprooting buried cable when trees topple. While a neighborhood may be locally served by underground cable, all electric service eventually comes back above-ground and connects to overhead service, either in the surrounding neighborhoods, or further down the street. So, exposure to above-ground electric service from weather, animals and trees is never fully eliminated. 

Why is there a differential cost for new underground service? 
It is FPL’s position that it would be unfair to charge all customers a higher price to cover the cost of new underground service, because not everyone would get the benefit or necessarily be willing or able to pay the higher cost. 

Why must the customer or requesting party pay for the conversion from overhead to underground? 
Similar to new service requests for underground service, conversions take into account the requirement that FPL provides electric service to all its customers in the most cost-effective manner available and this is typically an overhead system.
(Source: Florida Power & Light)


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