It’s going to take time and money, but the results mean the power stays on.
Ever since Hurricane Andrew crashed into Miami-Dade County in 1992, Coral Gables has been worried about the vulnerability of its power lines. But it was not until the power outages caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017 that the city decided to conduct studies on what it would cost to put its powerlines underground.
Put on hold during the pandemic, the effort to bury the city’s powerlines is now back in motion. With a recent proposal from Mayor Vince Lago and approval from the City Commission, city staff will move forward this summer with year-long community outreach and education program. Based on the feedback from that process, the commission will draft language a year from now for approval (or rejection) by voters in the November 2022 general election.
What the voters must decide is whether it’s worth it. On the one hand, as Commissioner Kirk Menendez noted, “We have a gust of forty mile-per-hour wind, and half of Coral Gables loses power.” On the other hand, the price tag – estimated by engineering firm Stantec at between $350 million and $390 million – would have to be paid by homeowners over a 30-year period. The cost would be fifty cents per square foot of a resident’s home every year for those three decades. That would mean $1,000 a year for a 2,000-square-foot home – about $83 a month.
“It would not just bury the system, but improve it,” said Stantec vice president Ramon Constello, building in extra capacity for electric vehicle charging stations and infrastructure for solar and battery storage. The cost to homeowners may also come down if money from a national infrastructure bill becomes available.
Right now, about 80 percent of the city’s powerlines are above ground. The only undergrounded power areas are the University of Miami, the high-end homes east of Old Cutler Road, and the homes in Deering Bay to the south.
The main benefit of going underground, said Constello,is for “future proofing” the power supply so that even in bad storms the street and traffic lights stay on, as would power and communications (phone and cable TV) to homes, schools, elderly care facilities, etc. The other beneficiary: “Green city policies that are forward thinking,” said Constello, including protecting the tree canopy from FPL crews and adding extra capacity for more power usage going forward.
Should the citizens of Coral Gables vote in favor, noted Costello, it would be the biggest municipal undergrounding in the state, “larger than any other such project in Florida by a factor of five.”