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Austin Energy Launches Third-Party Evaluations of Overhead Power Lines, Undergrounding Feasibility

The City Council of Austin, Texas, approved Austin Energy’s third-party contract for evaluating the electrical utility’s more than 12,000 miles of electrical distribution lines, Austin Energy said on Feb. 16.

Twin independent studies by engineering firm Burns & McDonnell will begin in March 2024 to assess the underground feasibility and overhead resiliency of Austin Energy’s distribution system.

The contractor will evaluate the distribution system which consists of approximately 7,000 miles of underground and 5,000 miles of overhead lines.

The goal is to identify potential improvements to ensure the continued safe and reliable delivery of power to Austin Energy’s electric customers with a focus on risk management and resiliency.

“Austin Energy is excited to embark on these studies with an eye toward continually improving electric service reliability and resiliency,” said Elaine Veselka, Vice President of Electric System Engineering and Technical Services, in a statement, “We feel this is much more than a ‘one size fits all’ approach to improving resiliency and can help guide our ongoing efforts.”

After Winter Storm Mara in February 2023, Austin Energy executives directed staff to budget money to conduct an undergrounding feasibility study.

In March 2023, the Austin City Council adopted a resolution further directing the utility to study the feasibility of converting existing overhead distribution lines to underground lines.

In April 2023, the Federal Energy Management Agency awarded Austin Energy a Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant to study the resilience of Austin Energy’s overhead distribution system.

These studies are separate, independent initiatives but require much of the same Austin Energy resources to complete.

By combining the efforts, the utility will benefit from deliverable results that complement each other, as well as cost savings on internal resources, Austin Energy noted.

Austin Energy’s Resiliency Efforts

“Making the local grid more reliable and resilient in the time of climate change and a booming population is at the forefront of the utility’s efforts,” the utility noted.

In addition to the distribution system studies, Austin Energy is working to reduce outages and improve reliability through:

  • Tree trimming to industry standards
  • Wildfire mitigation efforts
  • Underperforming feeder maintenance and upgrades
  • Pole remediation and refurbishment contract
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