If Colorado Springs city leaders want to find a good example of how to bury municipal power lines above ground, they need look no further than nearby Fort Collins in northern Colorado. .
By 2006, Fort Collins Utilities had placed 100% of that city’s electrical wires underground. It was the culmination of an 18-year program to intentionally “bury the wires.”
In 2003, as Fort Collins neared its goal of placing all of its telephone poles, transformers, and electrical wires under its streets rather than above them, the American Public Power Association declared Fort Collins “the child of the poster” for the burial of electrical wires.
“No municipality is more aggressive when it comes to landfills,” said Mike Hyland, the electrical association’s chief engineer at the time. “We actually have people from Fort Collins coming in as experts to talk about the subject.”
Hyland concluded, “There’s no place that’s put more overhead lines in the ground than Fort Collins.”
In many ways, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins are similar cities. Both are of medium size in terms of population. Colorado Springs is the second largest city in Colorado after Denver. Fort Collins is the fourth largest. (Aurora is the third largest.)
Both are major education centers. Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University. Colorado Springs is home to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the Air Force Academy, and Colorado College.
So if the municipal government of Fort Collins can decide to bury the power lines and get the job done in a reasonable amount of time, there’s no reason to think that municipal leaders in a similar city like Colorado Springs can’t. not do the same.
One of the main reasons for burying power lines is to eliminate power outages caused by windstorms and heavy snowstorms. When trees and tree branches fall to the ground during such storms, they cut power lines and disrupt service, sometimes for three days or more.
Fort Collins deliberately uses the stable power supply that results from buried power lines as part of its economic development program. The economic development team touts the community’s “power reliability”.
Companies “come here and choose to continue to invest in Fort Collins because of this reliability,” said Adam Bromley, acting assistant manager at Fort Collins Utilities. “We are very proud to be able to attract customers like Intel, Broadcom and Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser).”
Uninterrupted power is very important for businesses that use computer chips, do programming and communications, and use other tools that require constant power, Bromley explained. This is how Fort Collins recruits a number of major companies, such as Hewlett-Packard.
The history of electrical service in Fort Collins is very similar to that of Colorado Springs. Both cities voted for the municipal government to own and operate the electric power system.
In 1968, the Fort Collins City Council passed a law stipulating that all new power lines must be underground. Around the same time, the Colorado Springs City Council required the burial of power lines in all new subdivisions.
Then the electrification similarities between the two cities came to an end. Colorado Springs retained its power lines above ground, but in 1986 Fort Collins began burying some electrical facilities. In 1989, the Fort Collins City Council made it an official policy to move all existing overhead lines underground.
The search for buried power lines has been attributed to a “very forward-thinking city council.”
Undergrounding power lines is an economic benefit as it reduces maintenance costs, especially the cost of pruning trees away from power lines. Removing utility poles from streets and lanes clears the right-of-way, eliminating obstacles that vehicle operators often encounter. And invisible underground lines are much more pleasing to the eye than overhead lines and tall utility poles.
Searching the internet for cities with buried power lines, one is surprised to find that Colorado Springs, with 80% of its lines underground, is considered a leader. This is in a country where the Edison Electric Institute reports only 18% of power lines are buried.
This is an auspicious time for the Colorado Springs City Council to seriously consider finding the funding to bury the last 20% of the city’s power lines that remain above ground. The recent windstorm on December 15 caused major power outages and required approximately $3 million in repairs to power lines and utility poles.
The Marshall Fire in Boulder County, although not caused by downed power lines, illustrated how damaging an urban fire in strong winds can be – 1,000 homes destroyed. Who knows what the legal damages would be if a fire caused by downed power lines in a high wind hit Colorado Springs?
What’s needed is a solid estimate of what it will cost to bury the rest of the above-ground power lines in Colorado Springs. We will also need a workable financing plan so that the money can be borrowed and the work can be completed as soon as possible (about 20 years). And we will need to know the long-term effects of the program on customers’ electricity bills (percentage increases).
With reliable, actionable data in hand, the Colorado Springs City Council can then do what the Fort Collins City Council did. Bury those power lines!
Political scientists Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy are both longtime consumers of Colorado Springs Utilities electricity. For a small, printable book of over 60 photographs of tree damage from the recent December storm, search “Bob Loevy Home Page” on Google and click A5.