City Manager's Blog

The City Manager's Blog is an online educational tool to provide general information to the community in open communication style. Periodically, the City Manager will post articles of general interest covering topics such as the Town's budget, budget process, capital projects, upcoming meetings, community issues, public safety, and general Town operations.

Articles in the blog are not designed as press releases or Town publications, rather, they are written in more of a conversational style. The Blog does not have a comments feature but readers are free to respond to the Blog and its entries view email directly to the City Manager.

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Nov 08

Utility Underground Districts - Informational Presentation - Wednesday, Nov

Posted on November 8, 2021 at 8:17 AM by grodericks grodericks

Interested in helping take utility poles underground? 

Utility PoleThere are millions of miles of electrical cables strung overhead across the country. Add to that millions more of telephone and cable/data lines, and it’s no wonder that extreme weather can wreak havoc on everyday systems each year, causing utility outages that can last days, weeks and longer. Power outages over extended periods of time can present health and safety concerns as well as economic losses. In the aftermath of extreme weather that can cause downed lines, there is concern expressed by the public, government and the media that it's time to put overhead utilities underground.

For utility companies, undergrounding provides benefits through reduced operational and maintenance cost, reduced cost related to tree trimming, reduced losses after customers lose power after storms and reduced liability. Underground electrical lines can also prevent fires due to downed overhead lines in high-fire hazard zones and potentially prevent the loss of life and property. When power lines go down, if they cross a roadway, police and fire crews are prohibited from crossing the lines until they can be assured that the lines are not energized. This can cause significant disruption in public safety response times. 

Can it be done? Who pays?

Converting overhead lines to underground is not always simple and rarely is it inexpensive. The cost for paying for undergrounding utilities is typically borne by the residents who will most benefit from these efforts. Absent the recent allocation of funds for high-fire hazard zones, utility companies typically will not pay for undergrounding utilities in a completely residential neighborhood. California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Rule 20B allows for property owners to underground utilities at their expense. Rule 20B projects are not funded by the utility companies. Historically, through rulemaking at the State level, utility companies have been exempt from undergrounding existing utilities. Since they are not mandated to do so, they simply do not. The Town does not have the financial resources to underground the existing overhead utilities. PG&E used to assist local agencies in sponsoring such districts through Rule 20A funds; but these funds have been reallocated by PG&E to high-fire zones and the Town no longer has access to those funds. The cost to underground about 1 linear foot varies but can be expected to cost between $3,000 to $5,000 per lineal foot.  

Each undergrounding district varies in cost depending on a number of factors including, but not limited to, size of district, terrain, distance and depth of trench and overall cost of construction. Undergrounding of the private service laterals will also vary in cost depending on similar factors. Finally, the District Engineer will establish the estimate for the entire project and then, at the District Engineer’s sole discretion, determine the benefit spread for each parcel.

On average, a per-parcel assessment can vary between $15,000 to $60,000 depending on the size and complexity of the District formed and the size of the particular parcel. Additionally, each property owner can expect to pay between $5,000 and $15,000 for their own private service lateral connection. 

How does it work?

Typically, the entire utility infrastructure is placed underground eliminating the need for poles. Joint trenches are excavated within the public right-of-way which will typically contain the electrical, telephone and cable/data systems. Electrical transformers are sometimes placed in underground vaults as well. In addition to each property owner's allocation cost for the entire cost of the District, each private property owner is individually responsible for the cost of placing their respective overhead utilities underground through a private service lateral from the property line to their electrical service panel. The process is typically a multi-step, multi-year process. 

Where can I find more information?

The Town has drafted a FAQ for Utility Underground Districts on its website. In addition, at 6 pm at the November 17 Regular City Council meeting, the Town will host a Public Information Presentation from a consultant that will walk through how such Districts are formed and how they operate. The meeting will be hosted via Zoom remotely. For information on how to connect to the presentation, watch for the November 17, 2021 Agenda release on the Town's website.

George Roericks
City Manager
Town of Atherton
80 Fair Oaks Lane
Atherton, CA 94027