Undergrounding Hydro Wires – If not on Main Street during Renewal, then when?
Despite indications that the undergrounding of hydro wires during Main Street Renewal would have positive benefits, the City of Ottawa is proceeding with a detailed design based on removing the existing poles and installing overhead wiring on new poles. Below is a brief of the OOECA Main Street Renewal working group’s argument to persuade the city to bury the hydro wires on at least one side of a three block stretch of Main Street, and the OOECA’s recommendations as of June 26, 2014.
- The 2011 Old Ottawa East Community Design Plan (CDP) gives the direction that at the time
of reconstruction of Main Street the potential for burial of overhead hydro will be reviewed.
- The 2011 Old Ottawa East Secondary Plan (SP) states city policy is to prioritize the burial of overhead wires on the west side of Main Street, from Immaculata High School to Clegg, due to
shallow lot depth.
- The 2012 Main Street Renewal terms of reference required the identification of potential
underground utility corridors for hydro, as well as, possible locations for surface hydro transformer
bases. The design and costing options for full burial of overhead wires is to be considered during
the early design phase.
- To service the Confederation Line, Hydro Ottawa will be installing an undergrounded power
supply, on the west side of Main, from Clegg to Immaculata High School. From there the LRT
electrical will be incorporated in the existing underground system. Due to insufficient capacity for
the imminent 1000 unit future developments on the Oblates lands, an undergrounding system will
be installed in conjunction with the LRT undergrounding.
- There are several properties along the west side of Main Street that are currently underutilized.
The city’s intensification policies encourage up to six storey redevelopment. Undergrounding
would free up lost development capacity, provide a stimulus for redevelopment and increase
municipal property tax revenues.
- Due to the fact that existing hydro poles and overhead wiring having reached ‘end of life’ and the
renewed streetscape requirement for all hydro poles to be relocated, the existing overhead system
cannot be reused. Interestingly, Main Street from Colonel By to Clegg currently has hydro
undergrounded along the majority of street, but the design is based on relocating the overhead
- Hydro Ottawa (HO) provided their low level estimate cost in the amount of $2.0M (with a +75% / ‐
25% estimate range, or $1.5M to $3.5M) for undergrounding hydro wires. This estimate including a
lowest possible credit cost for not providing the proposed relocated overhead wiring system
($0.24M – based on 10% of the undergrounding estimate).
- Despite several meetings and discussions regarding the above, the city continually maintained the
city’s Underground Wiring Policy (UWP)
does not permit hydro burial, except when a “case” for the undergrounding is identified and brought to Ottawa City Council. OOECA was advised the “case” would not be made by the city staff or its consultants.
- OOECA provided the city with an electrical contractor’s detailed cost estimate in the amount of
$1.11M, for the same scope of work as HO estimate. OOECA made suggestions for savings –
alternative routing and consideration of a hybrid overhead/underground distribution system to
reduce the $0.6M cost carried to provide transformers and sectionalizers to service the (23)
existing buildings. This estimate fell on deaf ears, except for a request from HO for the city to
provide a $25,000 purchase order if HO was to provide a more detailed estimate.
- In April 2013, after no response or consideration of the OOECA cost estimates, the councillor
offered to take the issue to city council. The councillor requested the OOECA prepare a report
and recommendation based only on the OOE CDP and SP. The OOECA prepared the councillor
motion re: undergrounding. However, the councillor advised he had received no support from
staff, any councillors or the mayor’s office.
- Without political, staff or professional support and no further communications from Hydro Ottawa
or the city, the OOECA has few options. The small population of OOE cannot afford the $2.0M levy that
would be required to pay for the undergrounding ‐ per the UWP requester pay policy.
- However, all taxpayers should be aware of the following. The Kanata North Ward 4
recently requested to pay a $2.5M levy to underground a 700 metre section of Kanata Drive, based
on a Hydro Ottawa low level estimate. Although this levy was to be the incremental cost
(undergrounding system cost less the Hydro Ottawa proposed overhead system cost), the actual
final cost for Kanata Drive undergrounding is $1.7M and this amount does not appear to include a
credit for not having to install an overhead system (likely in the order of $0.8M). The proper levy
should be in the order of $0.9M.
Bottom line is Hydro Ottawa low level cost estimates are not accurate enough to base decisions on. The UWP is predicated on an outside consultants report. The report concludes that high redevelopment benefits will be found where there is significant potential for redevelopment
on properties slated for intensification and in particular where the properties have small depth. The report recommends a cost‐benefit analysis be conducted for each street contemplated for an undergrounding project, as each street represents its own unique case.
The report’s final recommendation states, “In the situation of time or budgetary limitations, certain prioritization of undergrounding projects could
also be considered: Traditional Main Streets should be recommended as first priority followed by streets within Mixed Use Centres.”
The consultation prior to approval of Underground Wiring Policy involved only the steering committee comprised of five city councillors, development industry representatives, Hydro Ottawa staff and city staff. There was no actual public consultation. The councillors on the project steering committee (Councillors Bloess, Harder, Holmes, Monette and Qadri) were disappointed that a pilot project couldn’t be completed.
The OOECA has adamantly contended that a cost benefit analysis for undergrounding hydro wires on Main Street is an absolute necessary ‘pilot project’ / “case” to investigate. All indications point to a positive return on investment for the city. If the synergies and capital cost savings
during the Main Street renewal project do not result in an affirmative case for undergrounding, there will likely not ever be another “case” with so
many favourable factors to consider.
The OOECA therefore recommends the city should direct Hydro Ottawa to prepare an economical alternative undergrounding design scheme, which could very well be a hybrid underground and temporary overhead scheme. The alternative scheme should be tendered with request
for detailed alternative separate pricing to be compared with the base tender overhead design scheme. The city should require Hydro Ottawa
provide a detailed cost summary of their “own forces” works for each scheme, but the HO approved contractors / subcontractors should
submit their tender prices to the city. The cost-benefit analysis, as recommended by the city’s UWP consultant, will flush out the “case” based on realistic costs.