Dominion Proposes to Bury Problem-Plagued Electric Lines

Downed power line in Arlington. Photo credit: ARLnow.

Downed power line in Arlington. Photo credit: ARLnow.

Dominion is pushing a bill that would allow the electric utility to raise rates to pay for moving interruption-plagued power lines underground. The plan calls for burying 350 miles of line per year until 4,000 miles have been relocated, reports the Washington Post. The task would cost about $175 million per year, to be recompensed by charging residential customers from $.70 monthly extra on average to $4 monthly over the duration of the project.

Nearly a third of Dominion’s 58,000 miles of distribution lines (local lines carrying power to individual houses) is underground today. Putting the entire electric grid underground would be cost prohibitive the power company maintains. But putting the “worst offenders” — 20% of power lines underground — would cut the time it takes for all power to be restored by as much as 50%.

Bacon’s bottom line: We’re talking about an investment of roughly $1.75 billion. Presumably, there would be an economic payback to Dominion through reduced maintenance costs (tree trimming and the like) and reduced work restoring downed lines. Presumably, those lower costs eventually would be rebated to consumers. Dominion doesn’t provide estimates for those benefits; it would be interesting to see them.

In addition, the selective burial of troublesome power lines would spare residential customers a lot of grief. I don’t know how much economic value you place on quicker restoration of electric power but, as a fairly frequent victim of outages, $4 a month sounds like cheap insurance. However, I’d still like to see the numbers. How many house-days of electric service loss will prevented? What economic value can we assign to that prevention?

My gut tells me that this is a great idea but Dominion can make a stronger case than it has so far.