As a way to increase system reliability and also to beautify the area, Winter Park, Florida is working on a long-term project to bury power lines underground. Winter Park buries power lines in project that may last 17 years.
The Winter Park of 2029 will look different from today’s city in at least one big way: Most of the city won’t have power poles or overhead electrical lines.
For the next 17 years or so, crews will be digging up streets and burying cables in a $70 million effort to beautify the city and make it less vulnerable to the power failures that occur when storms blow down lines.
City officials say the change has been welcomed by residents of Winter Park, where tree-lined streets, a point of civic pride, can be marred by power lines.
“The city did a survey, and the vast majority of citizens wanted utilities underground,” said Jerry Warren, director of the Winter Park Electric Utility Department.
So far, about 79 miles of electrical cables have been buried. That number includes subdivisions and condominiums built with underground lines from the start.
That leaves another another 79 miles to go, said Warren, whose office is coordinating contractors who are burying cable. The project is funded by profits from the utility, formed in 2005 when residents voted to break away from Progress Energy. The utility manages electrical service but buys power from other utilities.
Most of the “undergrounding” has occurred along main thoroughfares. Residents have two choices: They can wait for the city to get around to burying the wires on their streets, which could take a decade or more; or they can be part of what the city has called its “plug-in program,” which allows residents to share the cost of burying the wires on their street with the city. The plug-in option is less popular, Warren said.
Other municipal utilities have underground wiring, but Winter Park’s effort to bury cables that are still overhead is unusual. In Orlando, 1,181 miles, or about 61 percent of the city’s power lines, are underground, said Orlando Utilities Commission spokesman Tim Trudell, and there are no plans to bury overhead wires.
About 60 percent of the lines in Kissimmee, which also owns its utility, are underground, but that city isn’t burying its overhead lines either, said Kissimmee Utility Authority spokesman Chris Gent.
Winter Park’s project could be finished sooner if the city were to take out a loan.
“If we did, we think we could underground the balance in eight years,” Warren said. Going into debt for the project isn’t likely, though. Residents haven’t been enthusiastic about the idea — and it’s not what Mayor Ken Bradley wants.
“I don’t believe in borrowing money for that purpose,” Bradley said. “I believe that we should use the proceeds of the utility to continue this undergrounding.”
Even cable-TV wires, which also use power poles, could go away.
Bright House Networks, which offers cable service in the city, will have the right to buy poles affecting its lines, city officials said. However, Bright House spokesman Donald Forbes said the company is working with the city to run its lines underground.
Whether the project is complete in less than a decade or takes the full 17 years, it’s important for Winter Park, Bradley said.
“If money was no object, we would do it in eight years,” he said. “But we will be very judicious to complete the next wave of undergrounding to accomplish both reliability and aesthetics.”
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Additional information on the undergrounding of power lines in Winter Park can be found here: http://www.cityofwinterpark.org/2005/depts/UndergroundingPresentation.pdf