PSO suspends power line burial

OKLAHOMA - A Tulsa-based company that delivers electricity to about a half-million Oklahomans is suspending its plans to bury more power lines.

Spokesman Ed Bettinger says Public Service Co. of Oklahoma won't move more overhead power lines underground in 2009 because of the unstable U.S. economy.

"Due to the financial crisis in the markets, we will complete projects that are underway but we will wait to start new projects until we see financial stability or some sign of normality in the market," Bettinger said.

The idea of burying power lines has become popular in Oklahoma because it protects them from ice storms and high winds. An ice storm last December set a record by wiping out electricity to more than 640,000 homes and businesses.

The process of moving power lines underground costs about $720,000 per mile and has been funded in part by a $2 fee that shows up on customers' bills for tree trimming and underground burial. Bettinger said that fee will continue to be collected, but the money will be used for tree-trimming.

PSO, which is part of Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power Co. Inc., made the decision to delay its overhead conversion program in November, Bettinger said.

Stan Whiteford, another PSO spokesman, said the economy's current state does not allow the company to seek bonds or investments that allow new conversion projects to start soon.

"We have to have upfront money since the fee is collected after the fact," Whiteford said.

Also, Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor asked the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to reject a $126 million rate increase proposed by PSO that would cost customers an average of $11 more per month.

"I don't believe that another rate increase would be appropriate this time," Taylor said, noting that the company also got a rate increase last year.

"They need accountability," she added. "In this fragile economy, it can also mean the potential for job losses."


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