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Small public turnout at Chandler-SRP hearing
By Jonathan J. Cooper

December 3, 2005

Chandler City Council members grilled Salt River Project officials Wednesday evening about a host of issues related to the installation of a new Kyrene Corridor power line.

The meeting of the council’s Municipal Utilities and Public Works Committee provided a chance for council members to discuss with SRP officials the various options for preventing service interruptions, which SRP insists will be inevitable by summer 2007 without the construction of a new 69 kV power line to run between two substations.

While Wednesday’s meeting was public as required by Arizona’s open-meeting statute, city staff, SRP employees and reporters far outnumbered residents, a stark contrast to two previous, emotionally charged public meetings on the issue which swarmed with frustrated residents.

Two members of the public did speak briefly, thanking the council and SRP for holding the meeting and pleading with SRP to “find it in your hearts” to eat the cost of burying the lines.

SRP, however, refuses to take such action, worrying about the precedent for future projects and saying all of the utility’s costs are ultimately spread between all of its customers across the Valley.

It wouldn’t be fair, SRP says, to burden the entire Valley with the costs of burying the lines in just a few neighborhoods.

Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn directed the city staff to compile information about the city’s aesthetic fund, a grant from SRP given yearly as a percentage of the total amount being spent by the utility in the city for them “to use at their discretion,” said SRP Spokesman Scott Harelson.

For this year, Chandler was allocated $1.1 million for the fund, according to a city official. That money is usually spent to underground much smaller 12 kV lines as well as landscape projects and walls to enclose substations.

The funds are not typically spent to underground 69 kV lines, and would fall far short of covering the expensive Hanger-Houston project in question.

Even if allocated in its entirety to the Hanger-Houston project, the $1.1 million fund would cover burial for less than half  a mile.

Tempe officials could not immediately be reached for information about the amount of aesthetic funds it receives from SRP. Because Tempe is landlocked with very little undeveloped land, power expansion in the city is rare, the amount it receives is likely considerable smaller than Chandler’s fund.

Why it is needed

SRP’s manager for transmission planning, Rob Kondziolka, said the expansion is necessary because there will simply be too much demand on the system, likening the situation to stringing too many strands of Christmas lights together.

In the power line case, the lines heat up and begin to sag, increasing the risk of failure. The added line, which would run from the Hanger substation near Guadalupe and Price Roads to the Houston substation near McClintock Drive and Ray Road, would add an extra redundancy to prevent that from happening.

SRP said its engineers have studied all possible alternatives, but none of them does more than buy time, ultimately requiring the Hanger-Houston connection in the end.

All six of SRP’s proposed route options require the construction of new poles in some areas, which has angered nearby residents concerned the lines will be aesthetically displeasing and will lower property values.

Residents and elected officials, including the mayors of Chandler and Tempe, have requested that the lines be buried.  SRP says burial is technically feasible, but refuses to undertake the project unless it is bankrolled by someone else, citing the cost differential—$3 million per mile to bury the lines vs. $300,000 per mile to hang them. In the past, SRP said at the meeting, housing developers and municipalities have been the entities to fund line burials.

Burial is so expensive, explained Jogi Gadok, SRP’s chief engineer assigned to this project, because of trenching and material costs. Powerful 69 kV lines require deep and wide trenches.  The wire, which uses several-inch-thick copper as the conductor, has risen in price immensely in the past few years due to skyrocketing copper prices. Today it costs $50 to $60 per foot, as opposed to a mere $1.25 per foot for overhead wire.

That cost differential works out to about $264,000 per mile for wire alone when buried, as opposed to $6,600 per mile for wire when suspended.

The time and labor required for line burial would also prevent the line from being energized by the time it is needed in summer 2007. SRP says it is committed to exploring options to buy time if Tempe or Chandler decides to foot the bill for all or part of the burial. 

If the line is ultimately built above ground, many residents favor a proposed route that constructs the line south from Guadalupe to Ray along Loop 101 and west from there to McClintock.

Taking care not to rule out the route, SRP’s manager of design and construction, Joe Nowaczyk, said the plan presents several technical hurdles and would cost about 50 percent more than the alternative routes, which run along McClintock Drive.

The Arizona Department of Transportation, which owns the land surrounding Loop 101, by policy refuses to grant permanent land rights for utility poles around its freeways.

While ADOT is willing to work with SRP on the project, Nowaczyk said, SRP is concerned about investing in an infrastructure with non-permanent access to the land on which that infrastructure sits. 

“But that isn’t to say we wouldn’t look at what they were willing to give us for the project,” he said.

He added that any line ultimately built along Loop 101 would likely go up to the west of the Price frontage road.
















































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