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D.C. officials say that the blackouts that follow severe storms could be a thing of the past if the city and Pepco join forces on a $1 billion plan to bury power lines.
A task force created by Mayor Vincent Gray today recommended just that, saying that the plan would help keep power on in the parts of the city that still rely on overhead power lines. Under the plan, 60 primary power lines in wards 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 would be buried over the course of seven years, with residential and commercial rate-payers covering the majority of the cost of the project through their monthly bills. Residences would see monthly increases of between $1.50 and $3.25—3.23 percent—while commercial users would see bigger jumps of between five and nine percent.
Calling the plan a "revolution in infrastructure," Gray said that at the end of the project D.C. residents would see a 97 percent decrease in the number of power outages and a 92 percent decrease in their duration when they do occur. "I regard this as the game-changer we were looking for," he said at a press conference today.
Gray created the task force after the August 2012 derecho storm that left over 75,000 D.C. households and close to 500,000 in the region without power, some for as long as a week. In the wake of the storm, Pepco was harshly criticized for consistent reliability problems, though the utility defended itself by arguing that the majority of the outages were caused by trees coming down on the overhead power lines that serve almost half the city.
Joe Rigby, the chair of the Pepco's board, served on the task force, and today said that the project would provide significant benefits for customers. "Our customers deserve this type of effort, and it will be a fundamental shift in what they experience," he said.
According to Rigby, work would start within a year of the D.C. Council passing the necessary legislation to approve the project.