Power in the pipeline

Vincent mayor Emma Cole has welcomed Western Power’s underground power trial which could deliver to a third of the city.

AFTER years of getting passed over, underground power might finally be in the pipeline for parts of North Perth, Mount Lawley, Mount Hawthorn and Highgate.

Vincent council hasn’t been able to get any new underground power since a chunk of Highgate went under in 2009, despite it being a popular cause given it looks nicer, can boost house prices and lets street trees grow taller.

An attempt to bury the lines in Brookman and Moir Streets in 2015 didn’t go ahead because the majority of residents didn’t want to pay $8,260 per property to get it done.

A cheaper scheme is now being offered by Western Power to put in underground power rather than upgrading the ancient power lines throughout the city.

Western Power’s offered to cover two-thirds of the cost of the $49m project, leaving Vincent to pay $17.4m.

It covers 5336 properties, about a third of Vincent’s total. That works out to about $2500 per property in Perth and Highgate, $3400 in Mount Lawley and adjacent bits of North Perth, and $4000 in Mount Hawthorn and the neighbouring North Perth chunk. 

If the council doesn’t get on board, Western Power will replace old poles and wires “like for like” – that means they’ll be reluctant to then underground, meaning the new poles could be around for another 40-50 years.

Mount Hawthorn resident Jessica Reid wrote on behalf of Federation Street residents urging Vincent to seize the chance: “If it doesn’t go ahead, we understand it may be two generations before we have a chance to do this again which will be extremely disappointing for us, as residents.”

Underground power is estimated to increase house values by $12,000.

Mayor Emma Cole described it as “a golden opportunity”.

“For a long time, underground power has not been cost effective for the city, but this new opportunity is a game changer for the City of Vincent and our residents who have been asking for underground power,” Ms Cole said.

“The new Network Renewal Underground Program Pilot has brought the costs down and underground power is now within our reach.”

But outside those areas in need of urgent pole replacement, Vincent ratepayers who won’t get underground power may end up part-subsidising the beneficiaries in the short term to kickstart to project.

While eventually the council plans to set up a user-pays system, to get the ball rolling Vincent staff have advised putting aside $1m-$2m in the next annual budget “to ensure no delay in the roll out of this program”. 

Western Power wants to collect part of the payment around June 2023 before digging starts, so that money would sit ready to cover up-front costs of residents who opt to pay off their contribution across a multi-year payment plan. 

Councillors will decide whether to gather that fund at the upcoming budget meeting when rates are set. It may not be needed so soon, since there’s still 12 months of community engagement and design work before a full business case goes back to council for a final vote.

by DAVID BELL

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