An editorial by the Deseret News, May 11, did not consider several important facts in calling for Utah Power to pay for underground construction of power lines.
It's easy to suggest that "Utah Power should pay" to put power lines underground. But hold on a minute: What does that really mean? As a regulated utility, Utah Power's prices are based on its cost of doing business as determined by the Utah Public Service Commission. The result of such a scheme would likely increase costs significantly - costs that would be borne by all customers through the price they pay for electricity.Because Utah Power's prices are based on overhead utility service, it's only fair that government entities - or anyone else who wants underground service - should pay the additional cost. That way, Utah Power customers in West Valley City, for example, don't subsidize the cost of underground power lines for customers in Salt Lake County.
Currently, if local government entities want power lines underground, Utah Power works with officials on a competitive bid for the project from qualified private contractors. Utah Power issues specifications for the project to ensure reliability, then monitors construction and tests the final installation.
The state law requiring those who request underground construction to pay the additional cost is a good one. The law was created by a task force that included representatives from state and local government, Utah utility regulators and Utah Power. It passed the Utah Legislature in 1997 by an overwhelming majority. The law makes clear for local government a policy Utah Power and state regulators have lived by for years: Residential developers who install underground service pay the additional cost, then recover those costs through sales to homeowners. Those who benefit bear the additional cost.
Utah Power believes the question of underground power lines is primarily an aesthetic one. After 20 years of research by scientists and public health officials, no risk to human health has been shown resulting from the magnetic field that surrounds power lines, home wiring and all electric appliances. Studies also consistently show that existing overhead power lines have negligible impact on property value.
Utah Power customers enjoy very low electricity prices - prices that have declined more than 23 percent in the past 10 years. What other service can boast declining and stable prices for a decade? Overhead electric service is efficient, safe and most repairs are relatively easy to locate. However, underground construction technologies have been improving and costs have come down. Utah Power is willing to work with local government on creative solutions that provide for growing electrical demand, including helping them install underground service, if desired.
However, simple fairness demands that this substantial cost be supported by those who benefit - not by customers in other communities who will never see those benefits.