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New law buries D.C.'s power lines

Tuesday - 3/4/2014, 12:10am  ET

WASHINGTON -- Things are about to go down in the District - power lines, to be exact.

The dark days of the Derecho in 2012 sparked urgent conversations about improving the reliability of the power grid.

D.C. Mayor Vince Gray on Friday signed a bill that will bury the problem - literally - by focusing first on the 60 most vulnerable distribution lines in the city.

The new law is a $1 billion public-private infrastructure effort that could take up to a decade to complete.

"In short, it's about how do we keep electric power going on reliably in the District of Columbia," Gray says.

For residential ratepayers, the initial increase will be about $1.50 per month. It would gradually go up to an extra $3.25 per month by the seventh year.

The increase is much sharper for businesses. Commercial customers will pay an extra 5 to 9.25 percent, according to District estimates.

"There certainly was an emphasis on how do we meet the needs of our people during severe weather," Gray says.

Pepco's reliability, which drew the ire of customers and elected leaders during severe weather in 2012, has enjoyed a kind of renaissance of late.

While tree trimming has been central to its reliability enhancement plan, burying power lines can take it to a different level.

"It will provide a level of resiliency in the system that could handle -- not handle entirely -- but greatly offset the impact of a Derecho or the kind of microbursts that we had in the summer of 2010," says Joe Rigby, president and CEO of Pepco.

"The investment is paying off," he says.

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