Cities that want underground FPL utility lines to get cost break

Article Courtesy of  The Sun Sentinel

By Marcia Heroux Pounds

Published January 12, 2018


Cities and neighborhoods that are working to put their power lines underground will get a cost break from electric utility Florida Power & Light Co., due to a Public Service Commission decision on Tuesday.

State regulators approved FPL’s petition to eliminate the cost of overhead pole and line removal.

The change will be beneficial to cities such as Fort Lauderdale, which has several neighborhoods that want to install lines underground, and the island of Palm Beach, which has begun the undergrounding process. An FPL representative at Tuesday’s commission meeting said the tariff change could be an incentive for more undergrounding projects.

Juno Beach-based FPL said savings from the change would be on a “case-by-case basis,” based on the size of the system being converted and the value of the existing poles.

“FPL works with municipalities that are interested in undergrounding overhead power lines,” said FPL spokesman Bill Orlove.

Under FPL’s currently approved tariff, municipalities pay for the removal and remaining value of the existing poles and equipment.

But with FPL’s plan to harden all main power lines within five to seven years, the utility said it proposed the tariff change to provide credits to municipalities that elect to underground a main power line. FPL said both hardening overhead lines and undergrounding improve reliability both every day and during a storm.

South Florida cities are questioning why aren't more power lines underground. Officials say underground power lines could be expensive and challenging to repair.

Palm Beach Town Manager Thomas Bradford said that, as a result of the approval, FPL will be passing on savings to the town, city or neighborhood that pays to put power lines underground.

However, burying power lines remains an expensive venture.

The island project, for example, will cost $98.6 million, financed through a special annual assessment of $1,191 for homeowners and $331 for condominiums, according to Bradford.

In Fort Lauderdale, several older neighborhoods have installed, or are in the process of getting, underground lines. Nurmi Isles already has underground lines, while ldlewyld, Riviera Isles, Las Olas Isles, Seven Isles, Harbor Beach and Sunrise Key have submitted applications to begin the undergrounding process, according to Chaz Adams, public affairs manager for the city.

The project would be financed through special property assessments over 10 to 30 years.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said he hopes the change will “expedite the process” of undergrounding for the neighborhoods. “It hasn’t moved as quickly as we would like,” he said.

At an investor conference last fall, James Robo, chairman and CEO of NextEra Energy, FPL’s parent, said that burying more lines was part of a corporate plan to harden Florida’s grid.

Yet FPL has warned that underground power lines are generally more expensive and more susceptible to storm surge and flooding, which can result in longer outages after a hurricane.