Undergrounding: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the utility underground district program?
The city of Alameda’s underground utility program was established in 1984 to place overhead main lines and service lines – including telephone, electric, cable television and other telecommunications – underground in a trench. The purpose is not only to beautify the streets but also to improve and enhance the city’s electric system.
What are the benefits of undergrounding?
- Improves the visual look of Alameda
- Enhances public safety by removing utility poles and undergrounding utility lines
- Reduces power outages caused by vehicular traffic accidents
- Reduces costs of tree trimming and utility pole replacement
- Reduces power outages caused by weather, animals, metallic balloons and kites.
- Improves residential and commercial property values
- Improves electric system reliability and operational flexibility with installation of new equipment
Are there any drawbacks of undergrounding?
- Higher costs to install or repair underground lines
- Longer times to repair underground lines
- Increased chance of damage due to dig-ins by those who do not follow proper procedures to identify the location of underground facilities before excavating.
What other companies are involved with the undergrounding program?
AT&T, Comcast and any other utility companies that use the power poles will partner with AMP in locating or relocating existing underground utility pipes.
Will there be a different trench for each utility?
No. The impacted utilities will use and shore a single trench.
Will the streets in my neighborhood have trench marks as a result of the trenching work?
No. Streets will be re-surfaced or slurry sealed.
NEW TRANSFORMERS IN UNDERGROUNDING DISTRICTS
What are transformers?
Transformers are devices that take the electricity of one voltage and change it to another voltage. Transformers convert the distribution line voltage (12kV) to the voltage used by homes and businesses (120V-480V).
In Alameda’s electric system, there are two categories of transformers. Transformers that look like cylinders are mounted on utility poles. Other transformers are contained in green boxes, which are mounted on the ground. Undergrounding district transformers fall into the second category.
Where will AMP locate the transformers? Will they be on my property?
The exact locations of necessary above-ground equipment, such as transformers and switches, will be determined during the design stage. It is AMP’s practice to place equipment within public right-of-way areas whenever possible. Should it be necessary to locate equipment on private property, AMP will work with the property owner to obtain an easement. Details regarding equipment placement will be available prior to the start of construction.
If my street is selected, how long does it take to underground the utility lines?
After City Council approval, the design phase will take up to 18 months, followed by 24 to 36 months for construction.
Is there any cost to property owners for the undergrounding of utility lines?
The property owner won’t be charged if the service lateral does not exceed 100 feet. In addition, the property owner must provide utility companies access to their property by signing an agreement. If these conditions aren’t met, the property owner must pay for the costs to move the lines underground from the street to their house or business starting at the property line.
What is the cost for moving all utility lines underground in Alameda?
About half of the city’s power lines are currently underground, with 93 miles of overhead power lines remaining. Undergrounding can cost as much as $5.3 million per mile. When you consider the costs, you can see why Alameda is moving lines underground on a gradual basis instead of all at once.
Can customers pay out of their own pockets to get their utility lines moved underground?
Yes,but the cost of moving overhead utilities underground can be very high. Customers who are not within an underground utility district may request undergrounding of their overhead utilities but must bear the expense of the conversion. For example, a rough cost estimate to convert the electrical overhead facilities to underground facilities for one block (approx. 600 ft.) could be $600,000.
This cost does not include converting other utility providers’ (AT&T and Comcast) overhead lines to underground. The customer would be responsible for coordinating any conversion work with other utility service providers. Additionally, Alameda Municipal Power might require easements for location of equipment and facilities.
The plans and specifications for the conversion of overhead to underground electric lines will incorporate guidelines set forth by FEMA when installing electric service to buildings (e.g. FEMA 348). In addition, at a minimum our plans and specs will include the following FEMA mitigation measures:
- Providing looped underground distribution services
- Elevating pad-mounted transformers and switches above base flood elevation (BFE)
- Installing cables with EPR insulation per ICEA S-94-649. This manufacturing standard for EPR insulated cable covers cables suitable for indoor, outdoor above and below grade, direct buried and in ducts, wet and dry, and for submarine applications. The standard underground cables manufactured for AMP per ICEA S-94-649 are designed to function in wet (i.e., submerged) applications and will be used on this UUD project. In addition, standard underground cables used at AMP pass the production water penetration tests per ICEA-T-31-610 at 15 psi for 60 minutes.
In addition, the next phase of the update to the city's climate action plan will consider adaptation, including sea-level rise.
A REVISED PLAN
Why was the program revised?
In 2012, the Public Utilities Board recommended stopping work on underground utility district #31 and tasked AMP with revising the undergrounding process due to concerns voiced by residents and Board members. The City Council accepted that recommendation at a Council meeting on July 7, 2012. Specific concerns included:
- Customers were concerned about the out-of-pocket costs associated with undergrounding projects.
- The criteria for prioritizing a district were not clearly defined.
- Public participation in the program was limited.
How are the next areas for undergrounding being selected?
The Alameda Municipal Code (Chapter XIX) sets the regulations and procedures for the conversion of overhead utility facilities to underground utility facilities through the development of underground utility districts (UUD).
- In 2017, a district nominating board (DNB), made up of four members of the public and one member of the Public Works Department, reviewed dozens of proposed areas and made recommendations.
- A technical advisory committee (TAC) met to examine the technical feasibility of moving lines underground.
- In the coming months, the TAC will present the recommended underground utility districts to the City Council for approval.