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Wire Study Gets the Green Light

City Council Eyes Shifting Lines Underground

By a unanimous vote, the City Council passed a bill last Wednesday, Feb. 6, calling on the city to conduct a feasibility study for the relocation of overhead power lines to underground ducts.

In a 49-0 vote (with one member excused), city lawmakers approved Intro. No. 985-A, which charges the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability with spearheading the study to truncate utility lines where it “would be most advantageous,” as described in a City Council press release.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn indicated that the study is needed in the wake of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy last October.

The superstorm’s high winds brought down overhead electric, cable and telephone lines in communities such as Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale, Forest Hills, Woodhaven and other parts of Queens and the outer boroughs.

In addition to creating a public health hazard, the council noted that it took days and, in some cases, weeks for utility companies to restore service in areas powered by overhead lines in comparison to underground wires.

“Climate change is an undeniable reality, and the more lessons we take away from this storm, the better prepared we will be for the next one,” Quinn said in a statement last Wednesday. “Transferring existing overhead lines underground is an expensive proposition, and that’s why it makes sense to identify specific neighborhoods that would benefit from this the most, and to determine how much it will cost to relocate power sources in these areas.”

Should the bill be signed into law by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability will have six months to conduct the study and present its findings to the mayor and the City Council.

The study will include an analysis of power outages caused by weather events over the last five years in areas served by overhead lines and underground wires.

The city will also consider network reliability and cost factors in relocating wires underground. As previously reported in the Times Newsweekly, Con Edison has indicated that it costs several thousands of dollars per mile-and millions of dollars over several years-to make the shift.

The utility company noted that the expense involved would ultimately be passed on to consumers.

However, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Con Edison announced in December that “putting major overhead power lines underground is … a consideration and will be examined in greater detail.” The company is reportedly investing $250 million toward “measures that can help protect critical equipment from flood damage” similar to that suffered during the storm.

City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley was among the co-sponsors of Intro No. 985-A. In a phone interview with the Times Newsweekly, while she praised the bill’s passage, she stated that “I don’t believe we need a study to tell us we need the wires moved underground.”

Crowley has been campaigning for overhead lines in Maspeth and Middle Village to be moved under the streets for several years. These areas regularly experience power outages caused by lines brought down during not just major events such as Hurricane Sandy or the September 2010 macroburst, but also severe thunderstorms in the summer.

As for cost considerations, the Council member observed that “Con Edison spends over $2 billion maintaining the infrastructure, and the storm [Sandy] alone cost them close to a billion.”

“They’re already paying for it. It’s more expensive to maintain power lines aboveground due to outages and storms,” Crowley said. “Con Edison said they’d like to pass the increase to ratepayers, but they’ve had record profits in the past couple of years. They don’t need to pass this cost on to the ratepayers.”

“I don’t think there’s an area of this city that can’t receive power from an underground source,” she added. “It’s an investment. The question is: Are they willing to make it?”

Among the other local co-sponsors of the legislation were city Council Members Leroy Comrie, Karen Koslowitz, Daniel Halloran, Eric Ulrich and Peter Vallone Jr.

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