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SRP shocker: $10m to bury power lines
By Doug Snover

November 5, 2005

Tempe may ask Salt River Project to bury a proposed high-voltage power line that has some Kyrene Corridor residents fuming about their property values and views if the utility hangs the new line on poles along portions of McClintock Drive.

The question is: Who will pay to bury the problem?

Burying a 69-kilovolt power line like the one proposed in the Kyrene Corridor could cost 10 times as much as stringing it on poles, according to SRP officials.

The utility’s policy is to erect new 69-kV lines above ground on either wood or steel poles. New lines are buried only if someone other than SRP bears the extra cost. Someone with deep pockets, like a city.

SRP plans to string a new 69-kV power line from the Hanger Substation near Guadalupe and Price roads to the Houston substation on McClintock just north of Ray Road. There is no direct connection between those two substations today.

The planned power line will provide electricity for portions of Tempe, Mesa, and Chandler. SRP says it needs the new line to meet demand that is expected to exceed existing capacity by the summer of 2007.

Existing lines in the area operate at up to 90 percent capacity, according to Frank Lamphere, SRP systems design manager.

“It was very close to 100 percent this summer,” he said.

Lamphere said power demand is projected to reach 108 percent of existing capacity by the summer of 2007.

“We can’t operate with that kind of overload,” he said.

The Houston Substation, built more than a decade ago, receives its power via an existing overhead line from the east on Ray Road.

There are no overhead power lines, large or small, extending north from the Houston Substation along McClintock Drive.

Five of six routes being considered by SRP use McClintock Drive to reach the Houston Substation, however. All would require SRP to erect new wood or steel power poles along parts of McClintock.

The idea of adding power poles along McClintock south of Guadalupe Road concerns some residents and city officials.

Tempe staff has met with SRP staff to “try to mitigate the negative impacts” of the proposed power line, according to Tempe Assistant City Manager Jeff Kulaga.

“Will we consider the underground option? Yes,” he said.

But “we’ve got to understand the cost aspects,” Kulaga stressed.

Tempe has spent more than $3 million since the mid-1990s burying smaller power lines along McClintock Drive north of the Houston Substation and on other streets in the area, Kulaga noted.

SRP’s proposal for a major new overhead line between the Hanger and Houston substations “defeats the purpose of this investment for our community benefit,” he said.

Ironically, the money spent burying the smaller power lines came from a special SRP “aesthetics fund” in which the utility sets aside money to be used by communities to minimize the visual impact of SRP’s massive power grid. Tempe recently also spent some of that fund burying power lines in the northern reaches of the city, Kulaga noted.

SRP’s various route options use portions of Guadalupe, Elliot, Warner or Ray roads to reach McClintock from the Hanger Substation on Price Road. One option would use the Western Canal to carry the power line between Price Road and McClintock.

The only option being promoted by SRP that does not depend heavily on McClintock Drive is Option F, which would use the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Loop 101 right-of-way from Guadalupe Road to Ray Road and follow the path of existing power poles along Ray between Loop 101 and McClintock.

If the Option F Loop 101-Ray Road route were chosen, the existing wood poles along Ray Road likely would be replaced by taller steel poles, according to Lamphere.

Some on the Tempe engineering staff had suggested SRP use existing power poles on Dobson Road in Mesa to carry the proposed 69-kV line between Guadalupe and Ray roads. That plan would have kept the planned 69-kV line out of Tempe entirely, but would have been several miles longer and was not listed among the routes proposed by SRP.

SRP has not yet conducted an easement analysis to determine the costs and feasibility of individual route options, according to Lamphere. However, SRP knows it would have to contend with its own underground 56-inch waterline and an underground nitrogen pipeline owned by Air Products if it tries to erect power poles along the Loop 101 under Option F, he said.

The cost to bury high-voltage power lines can be daunting.

Typically, a 69-kilovolt line costs about $250,000 per mile to build on poles and eight to ten times that amount to bury, which means it could cost $2.5 million per mile to put the new line underground, he said.

SRP’s route options range from 3.8 miles to about 4.3 miles, he said. The Loop 101 corridor (Option F) is the longest option at 4.3 miles, he said.

Using SRP’s rough estimate of $2.5 million per mile, that means it could cost $10.75 million to bury the proposed power line in the Loop 101 corridor between Guadalupe and Ray roads and along Ray Road between Price and the Houston substation near McClintock Drive.

SRP spokesman Scott Harelson said the possibility of burying the proposed line is “primarily a financial issue” but also could become a matter of timing because of the extra work and materials needed to bury the line.

SRP has fifteen 69-kV power line projects planned across the Valley to keep up with increasing demand for electricity, Harelson said.

The only way any of those lines will be buried is “if there is a funding mechanism that will pay the difference,” he said.

SRP is hosting an Open House on Nov. 16 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Aprende Middle School, 777 N. Desert Breeze Blvd., in Chandler to explain its proposal and take public comment.

The initial Open House, on Oct. 27 in Tempe, proved contentious. See sidebar.

Bob Harness, a retired Tempe official, said, “I was the first person there and the last one out the door” at the Oct. 27 Open House. He didn’t leave happy.

“It was two hours of lies,” Harness complained.

“The burden is falling on residents of Tempe for power I don’t believe is necessary or needed here,” Harness said. “It makes no sense to me that they (SRP) are doing this at this time,” he said, noting that much of Tempe already is developed.

“It’s power they want to carry on east, perhaps as far as Queen Creek,” Harness said of SRP’s plan to upgrade its power grid in southeast Tempe.

SRP’s Lamphere said there is about 500 acres of undeveloped land in the area that will be served by the new power line. That service area crosses several city boundaries, he said.

The only acceptable plan for a new power line is “everything underground,” Harness said. He said he has emailed his concerns to Tempe officials.

“It’s the esthetics of the street,” Harness said of his opposition to overhead power lines. “This is a nice looking place.”

“It doesn’t really affect me directly, but it affects a lot of people I know and it affects my town. And it’s not the right thing,” he said.

“It’s safety, esthetics and property values,” said J.J. Camptell, summarizing his complaints with SRP’s plan after the Oct. 27 meeting.

Five of the six proposed routes run by his home, Camptell said.

“This easement would probably be in my back yard,” he said.

Camptell said SRP officials at the open house specifically said the utility will not bear the cost of burying the proposed line “but they left open the possibility of residents paying for it.”

He believes the extra power is needed for commercial, not residential, users. “They (commercial users) should be footing the bill for this to go underground, not residents,” he said.

“There needs to be some organizing among the residents” to unify opposition to SRP’s plan, he said.

SRP’s Lamphere said the utility hopes to make a decision on the power line by the first week of January. He said construction could take up to four months if the line if built overhead and approximately six months if it is buried.



Photo by David Stone










































































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