So, you think $120 a year more for the schools is bad? How about $5,767 to put your utility lines underground? That’s Alameda Power & Telecom’s estimate for what it will cost folks in Underground Utility District #30 (aka the heart of the Gold Coast) to connect their homes to the power and telecom lines the utility is moving underground; work on the project started this week. This is just the beginning: The cash-strapped utility is pressing forward with plans approved God-knows-when to underground utility lines all over the city. And we’re all going to pay for it.
“The city has decided to do undergrounding as a goal. It’s a civic goal,” AP&T spokesman Matt McCabe said of the project, which the city is doing for “aesthetic, infrastructure and economic” reasons. But the bill may come as a shock to some homeowners. At a meeting in April 2006, the utility told residents they’d face a $2,300 bill for the conversion, a presentation available on its website shows; by October 2007, that figure had increased by more than $5,000. Comcast customers, who will also pay to connect to cable, could see a bill of over $7,700, per the utility’s estimates; AP&T is footing the cable rewire bill for its customers, putting their bill at an estimated $5,700 – way more than the $1,700 bill for that several customers in the district insist they were told by the utility they’d pay (that’s the electric hookup only). The total bill for the job could be up to $1.92 million, or $11,600 per home, the remainder of which is being paid by everyone who gets an electric bill from AP&T.
McCabe said he thinks the utility’s cost estimate is high, and he said it will work with homeowners who run into issues getting connected. But he also laid some of the blame for the cost at the feet of the other utilities whose lines are going underground – AT&T and Comcast. “All I can tell you is we underwrite (the costs). It would be great if they were to take the same position we have, to minimize the cost to residents,” he said.
Spokespeople for AT&T did not respond to a request for comment, but Comcast spokesman Andrew Johnson scoffed at the notion that the utility would help pay to connect its customers. “It’s no real wonder why AP&T is in the financial straits it is, if they keep making these kind of subsidy decisions,” Johnson said, adding that the telecom had no input in the decision to underground its lines. The utility’s budget proposal for next year shows a balanced budget – minus the $33 million in bonds it owes.
The utility plans to send out a letter next week – that’s a week after the project start date – with a checklist for homeowners. And give McCabe a little credit for being a good sport: He’s offered himself up for homeowners with questions. He can be reached at (510) 748-3911 and he swears he will get you the right person to answer your undergrounding questions.