Pepco plan would reduce D.C. outages but hike rates

WASHINGTON — Every time a major storm knocks out power, many wonder why Pepco doesn’t move its power lines underground. A new proposal could to do just that.

It would cost an estimated $1 billion and take seven years to complete the project, but D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray says the job should be done.

“Customers would see … a 97 percent decrease in the frequency of power outages” if Pepco’s top 60 high-voltage distribution lines in the city were moved underground, Gray says.

The lines that would be moved from utility poles to underground conduit “contribute mightily to the power outages” in the city, he adds.

Who would pay for such a big project?

“Customers are going to pay for this,” says chairman, president and CEO of Pepco Holdings Joseph Rigby.

While most of the estimated cost would be borne through rate hikes, the city’s taxpayers would also be asked to contribute up to $125 million through D.C. Department of Transportation funding.

Customers within the District could see rate increases of up to 3.23 percent, and commercial customers could experience rate hikes as high as 9.25 percent.

The plan has been developed by a task force formed by the mayor following last summer’s derecho, which caused prolonged power outages.

The task force includes D.C. officials, utility executives, regulators and residents.

The plan must be approved by the D.C. Council and the Public Service Commission.

Although there is no plan to bury Pepco distribution lines in Maryland, a task force established by Gov. Martin O’Malley last September concluded that placing some distribution lines underground would be a good idea.

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