Charleston City Council to discuss new efforts to get power lines underground

Updated: Mar. 23, 2021 at 4:37 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Residents who live in the City of Charleston say they have been pushing for years to get power lines underground in their neighborhoods and other areas.

Former neighborhood president Susan Pearlstine Norton says they want to preserve the trees. They are routinely cut to protect the power lines.

“The current ordinance made it very cumbersome and lengthy and almost impossible in a varied income neighborhood to get it done,” Pearlstine Norton said. “At a neighborhood meeting with the mayor I mentioned this and asked if would he form a taskforce and he did.

That was two years ago. Pearlstine Norton led the efforts to get the rules changed.

On Tuesday, Charleston City Council will meet to vote on an ordinance that could amend the city’s electrical franchise agreement with Dominion Energy. The amendment would establish a new procedure getting power lines underground for neighborhoods, along highways and other parts of the city.

“Just as I go down all the corridors, there’s no way that somebody doesn’t have the visceral ‘I hate the way that looks feeling,’” Pearlstine Norton said. “It feels good to be part of the solution.”

Charleston’s Chief Innovation Officer Tracy McKee says the ordinance would allow the city to utilize the non-standard service fund to be able to get utility lines moved underground. The non-standard service fund is created from a fee that all residents pay on their utility bills.

City officials say the former process to get power lines underground was ineffective because it placed the burden on neighborhoods.

In the current proposal, McKee says Dominion Energy would pay 50% percent of costs and the city would pay the remaining 50% from the non-standard service fund. She says households won’t be responsible for paying additional funds for the process. However, residents will have to pay for the connection to their homes.

“The original ordinance as written in 1996, I don’t think that when it was written that anybody thought that it would turn into as unwieldy as it did,” Pearlstine Norton said.

She commends city staff and Dominion for working together to reach an agreement.

City council will have the first reading of the ordinance at the meeting.

Charleston City Council will meet at 5 p.m. via Zoom. You can watch the meeting here.

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