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Austin City Council could vote to bury power lines after February storm

AUSTIN (KXAN) โ€“ City officials can continue laying power lines after a February ice storm damaged millions of trees and left hundreds of thousands of Austinites without power.

The Austin City Council will consider the measure at its March 23 council meeting.if passed, then solve The Interim City Manager will be directed to develop a plan to convert overhead power lines to underground migration.

If approved, the city will conduct a feasibility study and develop a long-term plan to prioritize the conversion of “areas intended for high-priority uses and with no new construction opportunities.” Critical infrastructure that could receive these upgrades includes:

  • Critical infrastructure such as water supply, sewage treatment facilities
  • Health and safety infrastructure, including hospitals and nursing homes
  • Emergency response infrastructure, including police, fire and emergency medical service stations
  • Emergency Shelter Locations, Resiliency Centers
  • Areas with “frequent interruptions in electrical service or high maintenance costs”
  • Consider community equity, historically underserved communities
  • Wildfire High Risk Areas
  • Areas at risk for canopy, critical root zone
  • Areas that may affect public areas such as parks

It will prioritize underground lines in all future city projects and study the construction of underground power lines along major transportation corridors, including the Project Connect public transit system and other road improvements.

As of 2021 data, Austin Energy has more than 7,000 miles of distribution lines buried underground, accounting for 58% of the network’s lines.

While the committee has expressed interest in embedding the thread, it does come at a price. At an AE press conference in February, AE managing director Jackie Sargent said the work would cost “billions of dollars”.

Peter Lake, chairman of the Texas Public Utilities Commission, felt the same way. While it helps prevent power outages from fallen branches, buried lines are also more difficult to repair, Lake said.

“Like anything they bring to the table there are pros and cons,” Lake told KXAN in February. “The main benefit is that when our trees freeze and branches fall, power outages are less of an issue if the lines are underground. The downside of underground power lines is that the cost increases substantially.”

Estimates vary, but Lake said it would cost about $1 million to bury a mile of above-ground power lines.

“Additionally, underground power lines are challenging to maintain,” Lake said. “Instead of having people in trucks working in buckets on the side of the road, working on power lines, you have to dig the streets, you have to dig the yards, which of course causes more damage to homes and families”

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