Removing poles and wires takes time and money, lots of it
Eliminating utility poles and their attached web of wires from the local landscape can be time-consuming and expensive - in some cases unnecessarily so, said several people intimately familiar with projects who were contacted by The Times.
An architect who asked not to be identified because of pending work said NStar, the Vineyard's local utility company, charges private parties an "outrageous" amount of money for what is essentially an upgrade to the company's own infrastructure. He described the required engineering and time involved as excessive.
Doug Best, a general contractor with prior experience in utility pole systems, this week finished removing three utility poles and wires from a stretch of homes along East Chop in time for a park neighbor's family reunion. He said it is not a project for the novice. "From a corporate perspective, NStar could make it easier."
Mr. Best said that the local NStar office and Island utility crews are very responsive and easy to work with on projects. The problem originates off-Island, he said, within an office located in Westwood that handles all of the paperwork for burying utility lines. He said that small projects are treated as though they were major developments, which adds to the time and expense.
Given the vulnerability of poles and wires to bad weather, particularly on an island where saltwater spray can short out wires, the companies should make it easier and more efficient to bury utilities out of harm's way, said Mr. Best, "especially, when someone else is paying for it."
Michael Durand, an NStar spokesman, said the cost of any private or municipal project varies depending on the complexity of the job. Those costs include design and engineering work and field visits, work done along with a multitude of other projects by NStar engineering personnel.
"The expense depends on the job," said Mr. Durand. "We determine what it is going to take to do the work and what that work will cost."
Mr. Durand said there are national estimates that peg the cost at approximately $1 million per mile to put power lines underground. He said it is cost-prohibitive to place lines underground on a large scale, costs that would be picked up by the ratepayers.
NStar's first priority is maintaining the current system and providing various upgrades, Mr. Durand said. "That work is a priority for us because that is directly affecting the reliability of electric service for customers," he said. "Putting a section of wire underground, though it does have its benefits, the benefits are not to the magnitude of the upgrade work that we do day in and day out throughout the service area."