Forum: Rainey Street

We want your ideas concerning pedestrian safety, traffic congestion and parking in the Rainey Street neighborhood. Please post your ideas to make Rainey Street better!

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Jesse Lunsford about 6 years ago
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Austin Common Sense about 6 years ago

You do realize this will cost the city billions of dollars?(AE)  I don't disagree with the idea going forward. I hate to see areas in Lakeway, West Lake, etc with beautiful Hill Country views suddenly realizing that a power line is going to be strung up on their property blocking the view. Of course you can pay to have the lines buried, but we're talking at least 50 thousand to do so. (that's a very low estimate btw). But yes, the city could mandate that all distribution lines in the future be buried. But we are talking 1) extremely expensive 2) transmission lines are very difficult and costly to bury. Plus its dangerous with that much electricity running in the ground.

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Josh Katz about 6 years ago

Depending on the voltage of power line, the price ranges from several million dollars per mile of line buried to tens of millions per mile of line.  A city as big as Austin has tens of thousands of miles of power lines, many of which are not owned by Austin Energy, but by LCRA etc.  The cost to do this would easily exceed the City's entire budget.

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Jeff Jeff about 6 years ago

Agreed, totally cost prohibitive for the time being. Hopefully the cost of underground falls to some kind of reasonable level in the future. 

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Frank Frank about 6 years ago

If it is so expensive, how is it that they do it in France (and surely other countries) ???

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Jeff Jeff about 6 years ago

From Wikipedia: 1kWh in France = 19.25 cents, 1 kWh in USA = 9.28 cents. And I believe that is only with 25% of new high voltage power lines required to be built underground. 

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Jeff Jeff about 6 years ago

Pretty good article: http://www.energybiz.com/article/11/05/case-underground-transmission

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Austin Energy about 6 years ago

Underground power lines are certainly appealing until you do the math. We’ve participated in countless studies that all show the same thing – it costs substantially more to install underground lines – and the City of Austin simply cannot afford the higher cost. Austin Energy estimates a new single-phase residential overhead line costs about $1,150 per lot to install. For existing residents, we estimate it would cost around $10,000 per lot to remove overhead power lines and replace them with underground lines. This also includes excavating and repairing roadways to accommodate the underground lines. In addition to cost considerations, the utility needs space for transformer boxes (the big green boxes you see on front lawns) and that means working with homeowners to install equipment on their properties. In some cases, customers do not want the equipment in their yards.

Austin Energy charges customers for anything that exceeds what the utility would normally do to provide adequate and reliable standard electric service to serve the customer’s new or added electrical demand and energy needs. Austin Energy’s electric energy rates are based on standard overhead construction, and therefore, the basic standard overhead cost is the baseline for determining the underground-to-overhead cost difference to the customer for installing Austin Energy distribution facilities underground. For new subdivisions and smaller commercial properties the cost for underground electric service can be much less because in many cases the developer will install the equipment pads and conduit systems for the underground power lines as part of their overall project, thus incorporating these costs into the upfront cost of development. Austin Energy can then install residential underground service at about the same cost as overhead and there is no charge to the customer for the underground service.

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Jesse Lunsford about 6 years ago

Thank you for the clear information, Austin Energy.  I was not perfectly clear - I think all we are talking about is the (residential) lines to the houses on the street.  I think $10,000 is reasonable for new development on the street (converting a house to a business) and this will make the street better.  

I will bury my power line as I remodel my current project. 

So glad it will not "cost the city billions of dollars", AustinCommonSense.

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Jeff Jeff about 6 years ago

Austin Energy, what is a typical $/ft cost for burying low voltage (distribution) and high voltage (transmission) lines? And approximately how many miles of distribution and transmission lines does the city have? 

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Austin Common Sense about 6 years ago

Jesse- If you are talking about burying a few distribution lines around someones house, sure it will cost in the thousands. But when you say "bury all power lines" it seems like you are referring to transmission and distribution throughout the city of Austin. Sure the billion range is probably hyperbole, but still it would easily cost in the millions to "bury all power lines" like the original idea proposed.

Notice the cost is "10,000 per lot" How many lots are in Austin?

Jeff- I'm sure you have to factor in terrain, real estate, easements, etc. and not just a given dollar amount per foot when looking at the cost.

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Austin Energy about 6 years ago

Austin Energy has approximately 11,000 miles of power lines. We are checking with our Electric Service Delivery group on the cost per foot for burying lines. As we mentioned in our previous post, Austin Energy estimates a new single-phase residential overhead line costs about $1,150 per lot to install. For existing residents, we estimate it would cost around $10,000 per lot to remove overhead power lines and replace them with underground lines.

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Austin Energy about 6 years ago

Transmission lines range anywhere from $1,700 per foot to $2,300 per foot for lines that carry 138,000 volts. With distribution lines, there are many considerations including location, existing vs. new, land type, etc. They can range anywhere from $100 per foot to $600 per foot.

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Jeff Jeff about 6 years ago

Ok, got it. Let's assume all 11,000 feet of those power lines are distribution (cheaper, conservative estimate). We'll also assume the cost is $350 per foot (average). 

11,000 miles x 5,280 ft/mile = 58,080,000 feet of power lines. 

58,080,000 feet x $350/ft = $20,328,000,000 (That's over $20 billion)

Even with the very lowest end of the estimate, $100/ft, you get a cost of $5,808,000,000 (That's almost $6 billion)

It seems Austin Common Sense was correct with his billions of dollars guess...

But back to the $20.3 billion estimate. Best I can tell the ENTIRE City of Austin budget for 2011 was $2.8 billion. If the city kept the budget the same and spent money on NOTHING but burying power lines, it would take 7.25 years. Reasonable? 

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Robert White almost 6 years ago

What would be possible is for the City to mandate that all new distribution lines be burried.  Its much easier and less expenesive to burry new lines then it is to convert overhead distribution lines to underground.  I believe that Colorado Springs did this many years ago. There still would be additional costs compared to overhead distribution. 

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JohnMichael Vincent Cortez almost 6 years ago

Austin Energy could dedicate a portion of the $9 Million it spends annually on trimming trees near power lines to retire bonds that are sold to finance burial of these lines. Once this work is completed and the bonds are paid off,  the need to trim trees ceases to be an issue, our city's aesthetics are improved, and AE could partner with Public Works to cover many of the buried lines with the sidewalks our city desperately needs - perhaps sharing some of the capital costs.  It is worth exploring.

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Austin Energy over 5 years ago

While we would love to have underground power lines throughout our community, it is cost prohibitive. It costs more than $1 million to bury just one mile of simple construction overhead electric line, and that does not even cover the costs that each customer would incur to change their service entrance. That $9 million is used to prune trees away from our electric lines to keep Austin Energy workers and customers safe, and to provide excellent system reliability. If we used those funds to bury lines, we would only be able to complete a few miles each year. When you consider we have more than 2,400 miles of overhead lines, it would take many years to make this change, and in the meantime, trees would still need pruning.

You often see newer neighborhoods with underground lines because the developer has installed the equipment pads and conduit systems for the underground lines as part of their overall project. When this is done, Austin Energy can install residential underground service at about the same cost as overhead and there is no charge to the customer for the underground service.

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Chris Friede over 3 years ago

How much does it cost to repair breakages after a storm? Burying power lines does increase system reliability...not that Austin ever gets extreme weather events..,

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Mock Edward about 2 years ago

Not sure where all these cost estimates are coming from. Are we talking retail pricing, or actual costs. All I know is that the city of San Diego has nearly completed its under grounding of power lines, as have other cities. So, with Texas and Austin being so prosperous, what's the problem. Oh, the Texas model. Written asi sit in the dark due to a relatively small tree limb taking down a power line strung through the yard.

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Nicholas Vaughan almost 2 years ago

I understand the cost above but I also want to know where the cost goes? If its 1,000,000 to bury one mile... where is the profit? what is the margin? Is there a place where municipalities can share the capex? Never understood why it cost so much- governmental entities participate poorly in negotiation when in reality they are one of the few customers the contractor actually panders. Unfortunately, when mere humans are selected for civic duty they cave and have no idea how to stand up and get things done. Id probably be the same way... just soaking up my own ego and doing little to sacrifice to find a better way.
Bury the power lines... Telluride, CO did it just fine with minimal expense and little tax base and far more expensive construction cost. Austin is flat and easy to dig... the mountains are not.

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Louis R Barrera about 1 year ago

Because of the benefits of undergrounding utilities, 9 out of 10 new subdivisions bury utility lines. In addition, dozens of cities have adopted comprehensive plans to bury or otherwise relocate utility lines, including San Antonio, TX; Colorado Springs, CO; New Castle, DE; Saratoga Springs, NY; Williamsburg, VA; Tacoma, WA; and Frederick, MD. Study these peer cities.

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