By Julian Bajkowski and Paul Hemsley
The local government sector is upping pressure on its state and federal peers to seize the rollout of the National Broadband Network as a once in a lifetime opportunity to also dig dangerous and ugly overhead power lines into the ground once and for all.
Kur-ring-gai Municipal Council will this week become the latest government body to advocate that overhead lines be buried underground when the council puts forward an official motion to trench-in power and telecommunications at the Local Government Association of New South Wales (LGA) Conference in Dubbo.
The leafy and affluent council is also home to the state electorate of NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell.
While vocal opponents of the NBN have criticised the project for its potential to dig up front lawns and footpaths, councils in rural and metropolitan areas have for decades been pushing to send utilities cabling and pipes underground to get rid of messy overhead wires that are frequently cut during storms resulting in blackouts.
Another benefit for councils is that the removal of overhead lines enables them to improve visual amenity and streetscapes through increased tree planting because the risk of branches rubbing against power lines.
In August this year, Kur-ring-gai’s now former Mayor, Jennifer Morrison, called for the motion of using the NBN rollout to be raised at the LGA Conference taking place from the 28th to the 30th of October.
In her submission to the LGA, Ms Anderson said her Council is concerned with the “visual clutter” created by overhead powerlines and communication network cables.
“Telecommunication and utility cables and power lines have a negative effect on the visual area of local communities,” Ms Anderson said in her submission to the LGA.
She said the council hopes the NBN’s underground cabling will be seen as a precedent for the relocation of powerlines and communications to be underground.
The battle over where best to put telco cables is by no means a new one. Many local government areas now bear the scars of the so-called “cable wars” between Telstra and Optus that saw many city streets strung up with two sets of HFC cable to carry pay television signals.
Those assets as well as Telstra’s trenches that carry “last mile” copper cables and have now been vended into the NBN under the government’s deal to structurally separate the wholesale and retail arms of Telstra.
At the same time the federal government has repeatedly accused energy utilities, many of which are owned by state governments, of mismanaging expensive infrastructure investments in power poles and then shifting the cost burden to consumers under the guise of the Carbon Tax.
For many councils that have little say in where state utilities put their infrastructure, the issue of the safety of overhead wires is again looming as the bushfire season fast approaches.
The potential for overhead lines to spark bushfires became a key focus of investigations following the
In response to the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission recommendations, the Victorian government agreed to implement all of its advice including the establishment of a Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce.
The Victorian government also accepted the Royal Commission’s primary advice to replace power lines with underground cabling, a move that was estimated to cost around $200 million.
Other states have implemented their own plans to bury power lines underground, including the Western Australian government.
Western Australia has been operating its own Underground Power Program since 1996, which has aimed to put overhead powerlines in established areas underground.
According to the WA government, the program has led to the completion of 71 projects with underground distribution systems provided to more than 78,000 properties.
The costing for 10 major residential projects in 2010 was expected to reach $77 million, which would provide power to 8200 households over the next three to four years.
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