As the power struggle over power lines rages on, the city is seeking to empower itself.
The Sandy City Planning Commission is scheduled to make a recommendation Monday and the City Council could then pass Tuesday an amended ordinance requiring all new electrical transmission lines in Sandy to be placed underground. The city already requires new distribution lines to go underground.Monday's Planning Commission meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. The City Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. Both meetings are at City Hall.
The result could be that Utah Power will end a two-year battle by agreeing to bury the transmission cables that would feed a proposed substation at 1929 E. Dimple Dell Road, adding between $2.2 million and $12.7 million to the cost of the project.
But what some city officials really want is for the proposed substation to just go away. They cling to the hope that by requiring the lines to go underground, Utah Power might throw its collective hands (or fists) in the air and walk away from the project.
"Everyone wants to start from the assumption that the substation is necessary," said city attorney Walter Miller. "It's not necessary. There's no question the Dumas substation could be enlarged to service the (Dimple Dell) area."
There is some thought that Sandy may wish to stall the project another seven years until its franchise agreement with Utah Power expires and the city can create its own power company. Judy Bell, the city's public utilities director and special projects coordinator, has been asked to explore the feasibility of a city-owned electric company.
If Sandy orders the lines to go underground, it could be up to the state Public Service Commission to determine who will pay for the work. Utah Power wants Sandy to pay the additional costs.
The city wants the company to pay. But David Stott, an attorney for the commission, said that's contrary to established policy. The commission would not expect the company and its shareholders to pick up the tab for underground lines, nor would it allow all of Utah Power's ratepayers to shoulder the cost of a project that would benefit only a small number of them.
The residents in the Dimple Dell area could agree to pay the additional costs, or the city could create a special service district to front the money, Stott said.
"They can posture and gesture all they want," he said of Sandy officials. "The bottom line is, if they want it underground they've got to pay for it first."
At least one survey indicated Dimple Dell-area residents would be willing to pay up to $10 a month for several years to bury the lines.
But Miller and Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan said the question of who will pay to put the lines underground isn't the issue. Not yet, anyway.
"The issue is more what power and rights does the city have as compared to a company who wants to use our right-of-ways to do something they want to do," Dolan said. "Don't the citizens of the community have the power?"
Many of them could be without it next summer, for hours at a time, if the new substation isn't constructed by then, according to Utah Power business manager Jack Peck. He said rotating power outages could be necessary to meet peak demand in the area, which continues to grow.
"That's the last thing we want to do because everybody loses," Peck said. "We're stretching beyond what we can do at this point in time. It's not that we don't have the power, we just can't get it to that spot."
But Utah Power can't build the substation without a conditional-use permit from Salt Lake County, which has been reluctant to issue one until the city and company come to an agreement over the transmission lines. PacifiCorp, Utah Power's parent company, recently sued Salt Lake County in 3rd District Court for failing to issue the permit.
If Sandy forces transmission lines underground, the company could challenge that decision in court as well, Peck said. But it would rather have Sandy ask its voters if they're willing to pay for the lines to be buried, he said.