Undergrounding Public Utility Lines
I. Executive Summary
This report examines the policies and issues of undergrounding public utility lines. The policies and issues discussed in Chapter 2 have been categorized into seven topics: (1) type of line; (2) location; (3) benefits of undergro unding; (4) costs; (5) public sentiment; (6) technological issues; and (7) legal matters. The discussions within each topic address related issues and refer to assorted documents that may be of interest in those particular areas. Chapter 3 of this repor t reviews the treatment of undergrounding in other jurisdictions. Finally, Chapter 4 discusses the theory and process of public utility actions and suggests alternatives to address some of the problematic issues identified in Chapter 2. Legislation is i ncluded in the appendices for all suggestions.
While all of the issues discussed are relevant, the issues of benefits and cost have the most significance with regard to requirements of the current law in evaluating whether or not electrical lines should be underground in section 269 -27.6, Hawaii Revised Statutes. The structure of the law requires a balancing of benefits and costs but without a standard to measure benefits, it is almost impossible to accurately compare these issues. The study suggests that the Consumer Advocate sho uld be provided with the tools to measure benefits that include the valuation of certain intangibles. This measurement of externalities is necessary to complete the current analysis required under the law. Costs are considered from the perspectives of c onsumers, the utilities, and government. The study also looks at cooperative funding from all entities.
Regarding plans for the conversion of overhead lines to underground, this report focuses on the solutions presented by the California Public Utility Commission. The California PUC has actively pursued the conversion of overhead utility lines to underground for thirty years by establishing guidelines for counties and requiring utilities to participate by allocating as much as two percent of a utility’s gross revenues to undergrounding. Counties and consumers are expected to share costs according to locations and criteria set by both the California PUC and counties.
The final analysis of the issues highlights the need to develop the measurement of intangibles; create independent review throughout the process in order to reduce built-in bias; establish clearer communication lines between consumers a nd PUC operations; promote quality consumer participation in the process; encourage settlement through alternative dispute resolution; and provide for safety through the establishment of a one-call system.
II. Frequently Asked Questions.
A. Is this a comprehensive report?
No. The topic would require volumes to address the quantity of issues and information available. This report attempts to cull the highlights of certain programs and provide resources to pursue specific points not fully covered.
B. Could the PUC accomplish much of this without legislation?
Yes. The Bureau believes that the PUC has the authority to accomplish many of these tasks without further legislation, which is why much of the proposed legislation is more policy driven without specific requirements. Legislation in this State may be needed to provide the appropriate guidance the PUC needs in establishing some of the suggested programs and adjustments.
C. How is the EMF issue handled?
This report discusses the EMF issue under the Benefits category in Chapter 2. No standards have been adopted by any federal or Hawaii state officials. Accordingly, the Bureau has deferred recommendations on this issue to the Depar tment of Health.
D. What is the one-call system?
"One-call systems" are programs authorized by state governments that require utilities to identify where their underground facilities are located so that excavators are notified and the facilities are not accidentally dist urbed or damaged. A one-call system is designed to protect excavators from injury, curtail accidental outages of service, and save costs for repair. Many states participate in one-call systems and a full study could be conducted on the different attribu tes of each. The essential elements include requirements for: (1) utilities to participate, and (2) excavators to call the one-call program before they dig. Many programs also include penalties to those who fail to call ahead and cause damage.