The choice to place high voltage transmission lines overhead or underground through Midway is getting close to a decision point. Rocky Mountain Power hopes to have bids to place lines underground by the end of February, leaving Midway about a month to finalize funding to bury the lines.
In December Midway’s City Council unanimously voted to approve the joint conditional use permit submitted by Rocky Mountain Power and Heber Light & Power to construct new transmission lines to carry power through the southern portion of Midway. The approval was conditional on a few items, the key one being that the lines be buried, if Midway can secure the funds to pay for the additional costs.
Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson Spencer Hall says the power company is working to provide Midway City with competitive bids to bury the lines underground, one of the stipulations provided as part of the conditional use permit.
“We’re following all the requirements of the conditional use permit,” Hall explains. “Bids are out, they have to be in by the end of the month and then we’ll deliver those costs to Midway, and then they have two weeks to decide what to do with that. If they want to pursue it or if they don't.”
Rocky Mountain Power expects to have those bids in by the end of February or very early part of March. They’re hopeful that they’ll be able to get the three bids requested by Midway in their conditional use permit. The transmission line brings connectivity for Rocky Mountain Power customers from Utah County to Park City, improving reliability.
“We've been working with Heber Light & Power for a couple of years on this project, and so these are not Rocky Mountain Power customers but through our transmission line we serve power to some of these regional co-ops and municipal power companies,” Hall said. “So, helping them meet their power needs is a priority for us, and we want Heber and Midway to get the result that they want.”
Rocky Mountain Power requires that the difference of cost for modifications to projects must be paid for by the requesting entity.
“We offer developers, cities, those who have power needs—which is currently the case in the Heber Valley—if they would like to do modifications to the line beyond what is the least cost option, those costs need to be incurred by the community, or the developer, or the resident whoever is asking for those additionality's,” Hall continued. “In this case to go underground does cost quite a bit more and so we're getting those bids back for the city and then they’ll be able to decide if that's something they want to pursue.”
Once Midway City receives the bid they will be on the clock. Midway City does not have the necessary liquid funds to pay for the project costs up front, upfront payment is another requirement of Rocky Mountain Power.
However, Heber Light & Power, the local energy co-op partly owned by Midway could pay to bury the lines. If Heber Light & Power chose to cover the costs up front, Midway residents would pay the company back, likely in the form of a monthly fee on their utility bills. In a professionally administered survey 70% of responding residents supported burying the line, accepting that their utility bill would increase.
The Heber Light & Power board has not yet decided if they will supply the funding and are likely waiting to know the cost of the project before voting.
Additionally, within the same two-week window the grass roots organization Valley Opposition to Large Transmission Lines or VOLT will need to finish fundraising to partially pay for the underground project. In the December conditional use permit, Midway City Council required VOLT to raise $1.5 million to go towards the cost to bury the lines. The organization has raised around $533,000, according to their fundraising website WeLoveMidway.org
Hall says that if for some reason after two weeks Midway is unable or unwilling to pay for the costs to bury the lines Rocky Mountain Power will move forward placing the lines overhead.
“We have timetables, and we have a statutory obligation to provide service in a certain window,” Hall explained. “So, we have to set deadlines and we have to set expectations. We have requirements for ordering equipment, procurement all those different kinds of things, labor. As we do our forecasting, we have to have those things moving forward one way or another. That's where some of those filings and things come in. But like I say the bottom line is we want every community to have the results that they want, in this case we want Midway to be able to get the result that their residents want.”
The transmission line project through Midway either overhead or underground will begin this summer, with project timelines to be rolled out in the future.