Southeast
Are power lines better off underground? [Associated Press]

Florida could soon bury more power lines. Customers might pick up the cost

Supporters say the proposals would keep more homes and businesses out of the dark when future hurricanes inevitably wreak havoc on the state. The legislation may result in higher bills for customers, whether power lines go underground in their neighborhoods or not.

TALLAHASSEE — A pair of seemingly popular bills have been flying through the Florida Legislature, quietly passing through committees and likely headed to their respective chamber floors. On its face, the combined effort looks like good news for Floridians: It aims to strengthen the electric grid and minimize damage from hurricanes and tropical storms.

House Bill 797 and Senate Bill 796 include plans to bring power lines underground, an expensive process that may or may not deliver significant improvement in the grid. Instead, they provide an opportunity for investor-owned utilities to build infrastructure and profit from the capital improvements — charges that will show up on customer utility bills.

If passed, utilities would have to give long-range storm protection plans to the Florida Public Service Commission. Supporters say the proposals would keep more homes and businesses out of the dark when future hurricanes inevitably wreak havoc on the state.

The legislation may result in higher bills for customers, whether power lines go underground in their neighborhoods or not.

According to a 2017 article by the University of Florida’s Director of Energy Studies, burying power lines “is expensive, requires the involvement of many stakeholders and might not solve the problem at all.” It also points out that flooding, storm surge and uprooted trees could harm underground lines.

Rep. Randy Fine, who sponsored House Bill 797, said constituents will appreciate the extra costs when their lights stay on, bringing up anecdotal examples of nursing homes that go black during hurricanes or restaurant workers who lose when the power goes out.

“Do we want resiliency?” the Palm Bay Republican asked. “Do we want hardening? Do we want long-term plans? Or do we not?”

Both Fine’s bill and a version by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, have passed unanimously through their first two committee stops. Because both bills have been heard in their respective chambers, they have the chance of being brought directly to the floor.

After the rash of Florida hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, the Public Service Commission imposed several new requirements on utility companies with respect to preparing for storms and strengthening infrastructure.

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