Eight citizens spoke publicly about under-grounding TEP transmission lines at last Wednesday's Special Oro Valley Town Council Session. We've previously written on the issue in our posting: "Would You Spend $2.1 Million?" For more on this, read our special page entitled: Primer: Underground TEP Wires.
Most of the speakers were in favor of under-grounding of the transmission lines to preserve aesthetic and scenic views.
Issues that arose during the study session include:
- Who should pay for burying these wires?
- The Town considers the zoning code, adopted by Ordinance, to be legally valid and binding on TEP. To date, TEP has been unwilling to locate lines underground without up-front payment for the differential cost of above ground versus underground installation for infrastructure improvements not associated with any particular development. TEP has placed the burden of paying the differential cost on the Town. TEP's refusal is based on a ruling by the Arizona Corporate Commission.
- TEP helped craft the Town of Oro Valley Ordinance requiring the power lines be buried. All developers have had to comply on their projects. TEP may have a potential conflict of interest in recommending that Transmission Poles be used on these projects (per TEP’s standard internal policy policy of above grounding) instead of undergrounding.
- Should ADOT pay for burying wires on Oracle Road? Some information was introduced that question whether some of the Oracle Project cost should be borne by ADOT. The reinstallation of poles where under-grounding now exists may be against state law. The Town attorney should investigate statutes 40-352 and 40-353 for clarification.
- Can the three proposed projects be unbundled? TEP opposed this.
- How can Oro Valley reduce construction cost? There was mention of the Town subcontracting some of the infrastructure to save cost instead of using the normal TEP subcontractors.
- What about current view obstructions? Some spoke of the fact that on the Tangerine Project there would still be existing transmission poles that cannot be undergrounded because of power engineering constraints in undergrounding them. These existing poles have already compromised the scenic view. TEP is recommending further compromising of the scenic view with added above ground poles.
One idea is to borrow the funds form the contingency fund. Repayment would come from a yet to be determine source.
One funding source a franchise tax, seen as a potential source of continuous funding of the buying utility lines. Voters would have to approve this tax in August if Council decided to move ahead it. We noted in a previous posting that a franchise tax is a pass-through tax. It would be included in your utility bill.
Another suggestion is that the Town of Oro Valley might consider lending the $2.1 million to TEP as a loan and have TEP pay it back with interest. Oro Valley should not be subsidizing a multi-million dollar public utility. TEP is a subsidiary of UNS Energy Corporation. This is an unlikely alternative as it would require litigation.
The Wednesday's council meeting includes a hearing on the under-grounding and whether to use the contingency fund for the $2.1 million cost. Then the Council would study all alternative methods to fund the $2.1 million cost.
Our thanks to John Musolf for contributing this posting.