The Cost of Getting Power Lines Underground
You're paying for the process, but the results aren't obviously apparent
ANCHORAGE - Many people were reminded how much they love electricity during the recent Anchorage windstorm, as trees snapped and uprooted crushing power lines and polls.
Many also wondered why there aren't more lines going underground.
“It’s happening, but it's hard to do it all at once,’ said Phil Steyer of Chugach Electric.
Chugach Electric says the price of ‘undergrounding’ lines can cost anywhere from $500,000 to $5 million per mile - and every electricity bill includes a 2 percent surcharge to cover the costs.
“The municipal ordinance that calls for undergrounding of lines gives guidance of what gets underground, and utilities are allowed the flexibility to underground for reasons of safety, reliability, load growth,” said Steyer.
The city also has target areas near schools or parks where undergrounding can make the area more visually pleasing.
Chugach says it collects $3 million a year from the surcharge. ML&P says it collects $2 million.
ML&P’s current project is in the area of 15th Avenue between Cordova and Gambell.
In South Anchorage, Chugach is working on a $2 million project putting lines underground along Victor Road and a nearly $1 million project along Jewel Lake near Sand Lake Elementary.
“It costs more to put it in because you have to do looping and you need more land and you have to negotiate,” said ML&P General Manager Jim Posey.
Posey says it will be another 50 years before they get the entire job done.
“The average cost per facility house or apartment is $38,000 dollars,” he said.
Maintenance is also a much more challenging job and raises costs.
“Overhead lines you can identify and quickly fix something,” said Posey.
“Underground facilities because they don't have the air around them to dissipate the heat all that heat is contained and over time breaks down the insulation around the conductor,” said Phil Steyer of Chugach.