D.C. bills target Pepco, underground power lines

|
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

A week after storms knocked out power to tens of thousands of residents, the D.C. Council on Tuesday took up two measures that would move the District's power lines underground -- at a cost of as much as $5 billion.

The more sweeping of the two bills would require Pepco to install underground power lines across the District, splitting the $5 billion cost between the utility and the city. A second bill is more limited in scope and cost but would raise residents' power bills, at least temporarily.

The more ambitious proposal from Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans would create a working group that included representatives of the mayor, council and Pepco, which would have until the end of the year to develop a citywide plan to bury the power lines.

D.C. Council taking off for the summer
Tuesday marked the last legislative session for lawmakers until Sept. 18. Council pushed through more than a dozen bills for final or expedited approval, including:
• More billboards for the Verizon Center
• Three nominees for the new board of ethics
• A $32 million property tax break for the D.C.-based online coupon company LivingSocial

Evans, often an opponent of increasing city expenditures, said the cost to D.C. would be $125 million per year over 20 years -- a price tag similar to the District's school modernization project. But, he said, it would mean that "90 percent of blackouts in the city could be avoided."

The school project, approved in 2000, was originally estimated to cost $1.3 billion and take 15 years. But as of March 2011, the price tag grew to $2.4 billion and the completion date was pushed back to 2019, according to a council assessment.

"The fact is, we've figured out how to pay for it," Evans said of the school project. "This is something we've dealt with many times in the past."

Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey said the company was not commenting until its officers reviewed the legislation.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh and Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander offered a more modest alternative to Evans' proposal, one that would bury utility lines more gradually in different areas of the city. There was no cost estimate yet for that approach, but the bill would institute a 4 percent rate increase in the power bills of residents whose lines are being buried. Each rate hike would end once work in the customers' area is complete.

Cheh last week said she was launching a subpoena-fueled investigation into Pepco's performance following the June 29 derecho storm that knocked out power around the region.

Alexander, whose committee oversees Pepco, has a roundtable discussion of the power company scheduled for Friday.

Pepco, named the nation's most hated company in 2011, was the focus of D.C. and Maryland residents' ire last week when thousands were still without power six days after the storm hit. The company restored power at a slower rate than Northern Virginia's Dominion Power.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment