Dayton Power & Light has amended its electric tariff to require cities and other parties that request the company to bury its power lines to pay for the added expense of relocation.
Burying lines is extremely expensive and forcing electric companies to cover those costs would lead to significantly higher electric rates for customers, industry groups said.
“Additional costs are associated with moving lines,” Mary Ann Kabel, DP&L spokeswoman. “The community or customer benefiting from the relocation will incur the costs under the approved tariff.”
Dayton officials said they are disappointed because the tariff supersedes key provisions of the city’s urban design standards that require utility companies to relocate lines off thoroughfares during major construction projects.
“We didn’t say (these design standards) had to happen all over the city and we didn’t say it had to happen very often, but when there is a major rebuild of a road or stretch or road, we required the lines be buried,” said Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph. “That’s what (DP&L) went to Columbus and sort of went around us on.”
The city of Dayton last year adopted new urban design standards to require utility companies to move lines underground or overhead in alleyways during major reconstruction projects, said Steve Finke, Dayton’s deputy director of public works.
Cluttered lines and old poles are unsightly and hurt the aesthetics of the city’s corridors, Finke said.
Despite the guidelines, DP&L will not have to move its lines underground unless the city foots the bill.
Earlier this year, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved DP&L’s application to modify its tariff to clarify the company is not financially responsible for relocating or placing lines underground. Cities and other parties that request installations underfoot must pay for the extra construction costs.
The new tariff effectively overrides Dayton’s urban design standards, at least according to a recent decision by the state’s highest court.
“The tariff is consistent with a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling in an AEP-Ohio case that states the community or customer requesting a change in service is required to pay for the relocation,” said DP&L spokeswoman Kabel.
In the mid-2000s, the city of Reynoldsburg attempted to force the Columbus Southern Power Co. to pay for burying some of its overhead lines, citing its ordinance requiring the action.
But the power company had a tariff stating it was not responsible for such costs.
The Supreme Court of Ohio in November 2012 ruled Columbus company’s tariff takes precedence over local ordinances.
Power companies contend they cannot bear the cost of burying lines because it can be five to 10 times more expensive than overhead construction, sometimes exceeding $1 million for every mile. Power companies said incurring those costs would cause electric rates to skyrocket.
Underground lines are also more difficult and expensive to repair during outages.
“For example, if there is a problem with the line, crews might have to dig up the line to find the cause and repair it,” AEP says on its website. “When lines are overhead, all a troubleman has to do is look up and see the problem.”
Available storm data is inconclusive about whether installing lines underground substantially reduces weather-related outages, according to the Edison Electric Institute, which is an association of shareholder-owned electric companies.
But some groups claim that subterranean lines are far more reliable and service is disrupted less frequently than when lines are strung overhead.
Dayton officials said the city can still require DP&L to relocate lines to back alleys to benefit the appearances of streets. But it is unlikely the city will pay to move many lines underground.
“I tend to doubt we will do much of that because of the expense for us,” Finke said. “It’s not like we’re made of money.”
Joseph said DP&L was aware of the city’s new guidelines when they were discussed and adopted and seemed to accept them. But, he said, the company quietly asked PUCO for a tariff modification that circumvents the regulations.
“It’s too bad, because generally we have a really good relationship with DP&L,” he said.