It will take a long time and a lot of money for Greenville to bury electricity transmission lines in the parts of town that are most vulnerable to power failures, city council members were told Monday night.

“The fact that the numbers seem small (about 400 homes over a 10-year period at an estimated cost of $12.7 million) doesn’t mean people don’t want this, or that the effort isn’t worthwhile,” said Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle after the presentation by staff and the city’s consultant on burying power lines across the city.

According to Jim Campbell, assistant city manager, there are options that could stretch those dollars further like only burying the power line between the street pole and a home. “I asked the people at Duke (Energy) and they told me that was the most cost-effective thingto do.”

Campbell paid to have the powerlines leading to his house buried in the wake of the disastrous ice storm of December 2005. “It cost me about $800.”

Councilwoman Susan Reynolds said she would have paid out of her own pocket to have the power lines leading to her house buried after the 2005 ice storm, had she known such a thing was possible.

However, using the one percent franchise fee dedicated to burying power lines in that manner would raise issues about using public funds solely to improve private property.

“This thing will not be done in our lifetimes,” Councilwoman C. Dianne Smock said. “But I think it is worthwhile.”

The cost per home of doing a full treatment removal of overhead lines has been estimated as high as $40,000 per home and as low as $10,000. Burying a mile of three-phase power lines (most easily identified by three lines atop the power pole) is estimated at $400,000 a mile. Single phase lines (one line on the pole) can be done for as little as $2 million a mile, council was told.

The city will likely concentrate on burying single phase lines as that will give the “most bang for the buck,” Campbell said.

The push to get power lines buried in Greenville stems from a 2006 report on the ice storm disaster. The city’s Reliability Improvement Program (RIP) is the direct result.

In May of last year the city votedto raise the electric franchise fee paid by Duke Energy customers from 4 to 5percent. The increase, which is matched by Duke’s contribution of a half percent of its gross revenue from power sales in the city, is expected to raise about $1.2 million each year or $12.7 million over a 10-year period.

Foot-dragging by Duke over claims of proprietary information on power lines and other issues with the complex project probably will force the city to delay implementing the franchise agreement with Duke, said Kevin Mara and Thomas Allender, of the GDS Associates consulting team hired to assess the operating environment of the project.

“Extensive thought and research have gone into development of this program, and we have taken great care to make what is an inherently complex issue as straightforward as possible,” said City Manager Jim Bourey.” Our overriding goal is to work with Duke to improve the reliability of the power distribution system serving our city residents and to do it in a cost-effective, efficient and timely manner.”

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