Letter to the Editor: Electric undergrounding is key to Winter Park’s future

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A former Winter Park resident who now lives in Missouri for unknown reasons offered a recent letter in the Winter Park/Maitland Observer proposing that we back off the current plan to underground all overhead electric lines in Winter Park. I offer an opposing view, and some more focused facts.

It is important to first understand the strategic context. Winter Park is a self-governing residential oasis at the very center of the population growth in Central Florida. The Orlando area MSA population (Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties) has grown from 1.3 million in 1990 to 1.6 million in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010, and is projected to be over 2.5 million by 2020. City leaders are constantly working to preserve our quality of life and property values in the face of traffic, resource utilization, and competition associated with this population growth.

Electric undergrounding throughout Winter Park results in greatly improved reliability for every resident, reduced ongoing electric system capital and maintenance costs, and reduced electric system tree trimming costs, while creating the opportunity to plant and manage a healthy and diverse tree canopy on city streets.

Winter Park is putting a street tree management program in place to assure the health and breadth of our tree canopy for the long term. The progress of electric undergrounding directly impacts the investment we make in management of our street trees. Full electric undergrounding is projected to save about $500,000 per year in electric tree-trimming costs while allowing the planting of significant shade trees where power lines and poles once precluded their planting or full maturity. I have recommended that this direct savings in electric tree trimming costs be added to funding for street tree management. Imagine every street in Winter Park with a full canopy of healthy shade trees unimpeded by the need to trim around electric lines and poles. Consider the benefits inherent in this combined electric undergrounding and tree management effort as they relate to retaining and enhancing the unique character and quality of life throughout all Winter Park neighborhoods. Consider the competitive advantages for Winter Park real estate. Is the picture coming into focus?

I encourage all residents to read the September 2013 Strategic Plan packet (http://bit.ly/RFL22A) for a more complete context. In the absence of electric power cost surprises or natural disasters, the current plan calls for all of the primary and secondary overhead electric lines to be undergrounded by the end of 2023 at an expected 10-year cost (2014-2023) of $30 to $35 million. The current plan invests each year’s electric company surplus on undergrounding, and that surplus is then available for other uses after 2023.

While there will always be political pressures to spend our electric surplus to satisfy narrow constituencies and short-term ambitions, doing so will prove a tragic strategic mistake for Winter Park. We have been blessed with leaders who foresaw the long-term benefits of taking the financial risk of acquiring our electric distribution system. These benefits are now a reality, and we have a responsibility to future residents to reinvest those benefits with a similar long-term view. Accordingly, I strongly support a disciplined commitment to the full undergrounding of overhead electric lines and to the full implementation of a street tree management program for Winter Park. We will then have someone to thank for a city that is an even better place to live, work and play in a future only 10 years away.

— Peter J. Weldon

Winter Park