Electric Underground Conversion Projects

What is a “utilities undergrounding” project?

Utilities undergrounding involves relocating overhead electrical, telephone and cable TV wiring and equipment to below-ground vaults and/or aboveground padmounts to house the equipment. 

How is the City of Palo Alto involved in utilities undergrounding?

Since 1965, the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) has administered an ongoing program to convert overhead utility lines, including electric, telephone, and cable TV facilities, to underground. This staff report provides some historical background on the City’s undergrounding program. 

Can the program be sped up?

The rate at which undergrounding can be accomplished is dependent upon the financial participation of our joint partners (telephone and cable TV providers). The telephone company is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission on how much it must spend on underground projects. Any acceleration of the program would have to be coordinated closely with telephone regulations.

How long will it take to underground the entire City?

At the current rate of undergrounding it will take in excess of 50 years to complete the entire city.

If I do not want to participate in an underground district before it is formed what should I do?

During the formation of the underground district, you will receive a survey to determine interest in the underground district. You should respond that you are not interested in forming a district. In addition, you may write to the City Council letting them know your concerns. You may also attend the Public Hearing for the underground district and speak directly to Council with your concerns.

Do I have to participate in the underground district?

City Council creates an underground district by passing an ordinance which amends the Underground District into Municipal Code. This occurs after a Public Hearing to take comments from the public.

Who approves an underground district?

City Council creates an underground district by passing an ordinance which amends the Underground District into Municipal Code. This occurs after a Public Hearing to take comments from the public.

How much does the electric utility spend on undergrounding each year?

1% of the electric revenues are spent on undergrounding each year. This level of funding will underground approximately 100 homes per year.

Is there a program to help customers with the cost of converting their service to underground?

The City has a 10-year loan program where a lien is placed against the property for the amount of the loan and the loan payments are collected on the property tax bill.

How much of the undergrounding costs do I pay?

If it is a General Public Interest and Benefit district, the homeowner pays the $3,000 and $8,000 to make the home ready for underground service. In other types of districts, the homeowners pay a greater share of the costs.

How do I select a contractor to do the undergrounding of my home service?

To be certain that your money is well spent, we recommend spending some time before you start your project by asking friends for personal recommendations of contractors they have liked, getting written bids from contractors, checking their references, obtaining a written contract for the terms and work agreed to, and monitoring the project and contractor as the work progresses. A great source of thorough information and free publications about selecting a contractor in our area is the Contractors' State License Board, Northern Region. Visit their website at http://www.cslb.ca.gov or their office at (916) 255-4027 in Sacramento. Complaints can also be registered through this oversight board.

How much does it cost to underground the electric facilities in front of my home?

The portion of the work performed by CPAU costs between $10,000 and $15,000 per home. In addition to this cost, the homeowner can spend from $3,000 to $8,000, or more in some cases, to make their home ready for underground service. The actual cost a homeowner incurs is due to a variety of factors such as the distance from the City's electrical service box in the sidewalk or street to the homeowner's meter panel, whether the trenching work is under a paved walkway or driveway versus in the lawn, the variations in price provided in written bids from licensed electricians or contractors, and which installer is selected by the homeowner.

What type of districts have been formed in the City?

Over the years, each type of underground district has been formed and constructed. However, the overwhelming majority of the districts have been General Public Interest and Benefit districts.

Are there different types of underground districts?

Yes. There are 3 types of underground districts: 1) General Public Interest and Benefit district where CPAU pays for all construction in the Public Right-of-way; 2) Primarily for Local Public Benefit district where the construction costs in the Public Right-of-way are shared equally between the utility and the residents; and 3) Insufficient Public Benefit, where the requester pays at least 75% of the cost of the undergrounding in the Public Right-of-way.

When will my neighborhood be undergrounded?

The City prepares a 5-year budget each year. This document shows the next several planned underground districts. Planning is not done beyond the 5-year planning horizon. This is because the decision to underground is based, in part, on the condition of the electric system which constantly changes due to renovations and new construction.