60 D.C. powerlines should be moved underground, mayor says

WASHINGTON (AP/ABC7) - District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray wants to move up to 60 major power lines underground at a cost of $1 billion to prevent extended outages in the future.

The mayor on Wednesday accepted a task force's recommendation that the lines be moved underground. The task force was convened after a severe storm last summer that knocked out power to some Washington-area residents for a week or more.

“The city stepped up,” says Mayor Gray, (D) D.C. “We don’t own the utility, we don’t run the utility, but we do have a responsibility to the people.”

One section of Northeast D.C. almost always goes dark when severe weather knocks trees into power lines, but now they’re hopeful for a solution.

“So if it’s underground then there’s less chance of everything shutting down,” says Shirley Latta of NE.

Customers of the city's electric utility, Pepco, would pay for the majority of the project through higher bills. City officials say rates for residential customers would increase by $1.50 a month at first. The increase would top out at $3.25 per month by 2020.

“As we look at what I think is a very reasonable cost that’s been developed by the task force to think about what is it costing us now to have these outages,” says Gray.

“I think this solution gives us the biggest bang for our buck,” says Joseph M. Rigby, president and CEO of Pepco.

Despite their sometimes adversarial relationships, Pepco, the Public Service Commission, and the D.C. People’s Counsel worked together to develop the plan.

“I do believe this is a victory for consumers,” says Sandra Mattavous-Frye of the D.C. People’s Counsel. “I believe I know that the plan does what I thought it needed to do.”

The plan must now be approved by the D.C. Council and the District’s Public Service Commission. After a year of legislative activity, Pepco says customers could start seeing improvements in a few years with a projected completion in seven years.