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On Monday, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill that will kick off a multi-year, $1 billion plan to bury the most troublesome above-ground power lines throughout the city.
Under the plan, 60 feeder lines — those city officials say are responsible for the majority of power outages — would be buried over the next seven to 10 years. By burying them, said Gray, reliability would improve for neighborhoods that are most often left in the dark, primarily in parts of wards 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8.
Plans to bury remaining above-ground power lines in D.C. have floated around for over a decade, but this recent round gained support from a task force created in the wake of 2012 derecho storm, when high winds caused over 75,000 D.C. households to lose power — some for as long as a week.
With Gray's signature, the bill heads to Capitol Hill for its 30-day review, after which the D.C. Department of Transportation and Pepco will start outlining which neighborhoods will see construction first. According to Gray, work could begin by the end of the year, and a first phase of burying power lines will take three years. DDOT says that it will coordinate the burying of power lines with planned road improvement projects.
The $1 billion cost will be borne by Pepco customers. Residential customers will see average rate increases of just above three percent, or between $1.50 and $3.25 per month. Low-income residential customers will be exempted, while businesses will pay, on average, an additional five to nine percent per month.
Critics of under-grounding plans say that buried power lines are only slightly more reliable, they need to be replaced more often and servicing them takes longer. In 2008, Pepco said that servicing above-ground lines took 2.8 hours, while buried lines required 4.4 hours.
Still, Gray said that the plan would resolve a problem that had plagued certain neighborhoods for years. "This is something that has been going on for a very long time in the city," he said.