The effort to bury utility lines in the city of Greenville continues to be slow-going, years after 2005’s crippling ice storm left thousands in the dark and cold for a week or more.
Under an agreement with Duke Energy and the city, the cost of line burial is shared. The city’s share comes from an increased franchise fee paid by Duke. That expense was passed on to customers, who have paid an average of $1 per month more on their electric bills since July 2008. The city sets aside about $1 million per year for burying utility lines. Duke matches it with about $500,000.
Eighty percent of the money goes to commercial projects. Twenty percent goes to a residential program that provides $1,500 to homeowners to bury the service line from the power pole to their house.
Greenville Mayor Knox White wants the city to bury utilities in and along the borders of Unity Park, the city’s new $40 million signature park in western downtown.
But the price tag for doing Welborn and Nassau streets, Hudson Street from West Washington Street to the Reedy River, and Mayberry Street is estimated at $9.15 million, nearly twice as much money as will be available in the fund on June 30, 2020, said Kai Nelson, director of the city’s Office of Management and Budget.
The City Council has said it will issue revenue bonds to pay for components eligible for tourism-related funding, provided the annual debt is no greater than $2 million per year for 20 years. Nelson did tell members of the City Council Committee on Planning and Development that $2 million a year would cover a bond issue of $27 million, about $7 million more than Council originally thought.
The city is currently burying lines on part of West Washington Street. Other projects that are being considered, but have had no money appropriated, are a relocation and pole consolidation on Laurens Road, another stretch of West Washington, and Williams Street. City officials said another project on Augusta Road is in jeopardy, as contractors are reluctant to bid because of the state Department of Transportation’s stringent encroachment requirements of working at night and extensive traffic-control measures.
On the residential side, 3,635 households have applied to have their lines buried since the inception of the program, and 1,585 have been completed.
Three residential group service conversions were completed — at Ridgeland Drive, Mount Vista, and McDaniel Heights — and two more are proposed — along East Avondale and Meyers Drive.
White said Duke Energy’s recently announced plans for $3 billion in infrastructure investment in South Carolina over 10 years – including more than $1 billion for targeted line burial — likely won’t help the city because the utility has targeted initial efforts in Spartanburg and in Greenville County.
Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier said Duke’s goal is to bury thousands of miles of the most outage-prone, vegetated power lines on the grid in South Carolina. In 2018, it is starting with a few projects in the Upstate, primarily in Spartanburg County. He said the utility has identified many line segments throughout the state — including some in the city of Greenville — that it will target in years to come.
“This is not an initiative to improve aesthetics. It is solely based on data identifying the most outage-prone areas of our system that can benefit from going underground,” he said.
Mosier said the utility is evaluating areas in Greenville and Greenville County, but the analysis is not complete and the utility is not ready to share specific information. A timetable has not yet been established, he said.