Come November, it appears residents of Salt Lake County's unincorporated areas will get their chance to vote on how they want their volts delivered.
Above ground - or below.A resolution placing the issue on the upcoming ballot was approved Wednesday by the County Commission.
The ballot proposition will ask unincorporated area voters whether they're willing to set up a special service district and pay up to $90 million over the next 30 years to bury the high-voltage overhead power lines in their neighborhoods.
Included in the resolution will be one critical tidbit of information: The yet to be determined approximate annual cost per unincorporated household to be assessed for burying the lines.
Voter acceptance of a county service area would resolve a problem that has been nagging Salt Lake County since it adopted an ordinance requiring that new power lines in unincorporated areas be installed underground.
Compounding the problem is a 1997 state law that makes local governments, not Utah Power or other commercial power providers, responsible for the additional costs of running transmission lines underground for residential users.
Rather than trying to decide whether all residents of unincorporated areas should share the cost of burying a new line here or converting an overhead line there, the service area would provide a funding mechanism to bury all of the lines over a period of time.
Commissioner Brent Overson triggered the ballot proposition process during a staff meeting Tuesday, directing commission attorney Gavin Anderson to draft the ballot resolution.
The commission agreed to put the issue before voters last March, but has been working out some of the details with Utah Power while waiting for the utility to come up with cost projections.
A July 23 letter from Stoel Rives, the power company's attorneys, gives a "rough estimate" of $123 million to convert overhead power delivery in unincorporated areas to underground service.
However, about $33 million of that amount is accounted for by business and industrial users, so unincorporated county residents would not have to bear that portion of the conversion expense.
Overson also indicated he favors placing a $90 million cap on the proposed county service area to maintain some control of costs.
If the service area concept is rejected by voters in November, the commission probably will be compelled to modify its ordinance and permit Utah Power to build any new high-voltage transmission lines above ground.
In a related matter, Anderson was also directed to draw up a second resolution that would grant Utah Power a waiver on its plan to upgrade its Midvalley-Cottonwood transmission line.
The proposed waiver would allow the utility to run the power line overhead through an industrial area with the agreement that Utah Power would bury the remainder of the line in residential areas at its own expense.