Charleston is way ahead of most South Carolina cities in burying power lines.
South Carolina Electric and Gas and the city have been doing so since the 1960s, said SCE&G spokesman Scott Grigg. The program, which has run in a long series of stops and starts, has seen a considerable portion of the power lines buried in Charleston.
The cost for the Port City seems to be a bit less than estimates are for Greenville’s Reliability Improvement Program (RIP). SCE&G reports the cost in Charleston are about $1 million per mile for residential sections; in Greenville estimates more like $2 million.
Grigg said, however, there are considerable physical differences between Charleston and Greenville.
And there are differences in the program, too.
Charleston, SCE&G and homeowners split the costs. SCE&G pays half; the city 35 percent and the homeowners 15 percent, said Adelaide Andrews, assistant city attorney.
Homeowners can spread payments over 10 years.
“Which makes the bill quite reasonable, spread over that long a period,” Andrews said.
The city calculates how much each property owner will pay based on linear footage along the street. A corner lot, therefore, pays more than an interior lot. Property values are factored in, too. A home in a pricey section pays more than a home in a less desirable area.
One project that was recently finished had a total cost of $802,000 for 168 property owners, Andrews said.
Grigg noted the project took nearly a decade to see from proposal to completion. Most of that lengthy time span was due to property owner resistance to paying their 15 percent assessment.
Charleston’s reasons for burying the lines started out as more of an aesthetic endeavor, Andrews said; although visiting hurricanes have certainly influenced some homeowners to pay their 15 percent.
“The way I understand it (based on her experience with the city since the early 1990s) there were pockets in the downtown that didn’t get underground power lines under the original push,” Andrews said. “Those areas are largely taken care of now.”
All new homes in the city are required to put power lines underground and the cost is passed on to the homeowner in the purchase price.
SCE&G is quick to cite the cost of burying power lines versus putting the lines overhead. “The cost is higher by a factor of ten,” said Grigg. “And there are repair and reliability considerations, too.”
Simply put, power goes out in areas with buried power lines just like it does in areas with overhead lines, Grigg said, and cited studies that noted the overhead lines’ superiority to buried power cables in length of service and ease of repair.
And, while buried lines are tougher to fix, they are also harder to break.