Stirling slams ‘unacceptable’ costs of underground power

Stock image.
Stock image.

THE City of Stirling has slammed the State Underground Power Program for putting an “unacceptable cost burden” on residents and creating bidding wars between local governments.

The City is advocating for a review of the State Government program, which relies on councils to nominate areas to convert to underground power.

Up to half of the project costs are covered by Western Power and the Department of Treasury, and local governments pay the rest, with Stirling recovering its contribution from affected residents.

A report presented at the March 26 council meeting said the City had concerns about the principles and equity of the program for many years.

It said the purported benefit of reducing tree pruning costs was inaccurate with “little reduction in lifetime costs” and criticised recent changes that required councils “to bid competitively against each other and commit to a contribution above the previous standard of 50 per cent to improve the chances of being selected as a project.”

The “inequitable” solution resulted in potential increased costs to property owners, different costs across different suburbs for the same service, was unlikely to be granted to lower socio-economic areas and appeared to be aimed at higher socio-economic areas where owners could make increased payments.

“Local governments are being required to address all of these social issues and often find themselves defending an infrastructure improvement program that it has little control over and which directly benefits the infrastructure owner,” it said.

The report followed backlash from Menora residents about the program, which was approved for the suburb after 65 per cent of survey respondents supported it in 2016.

Several residents fronted the February council meeting raising concerns about costs and lack of consultation, and a 100-signature petition was presented calling to halt underground power installation in Learoyd Street because it would not encompass sinking transmission lines too.

Cr Suzanne Migdale moved a motion to provide financial relief to residents because she believed costs had increased from original estimates.

A City report disputed this as communication from the Public Utilities Office (PUO) in 2016 said owners could expect to contribute about $8000 per property and current costs were estimated at $7955 for a typical home.

Council rejected financial relief, with several councillors believing it was unfair on residents in other suburbs, but voted to seek an additional 10 per cent State Government contribution to the project.

City representatives will also seek to meet with the Energy Minister regarding concerns and lobby the WA Local Government Association to urge the State Government to review the program before the next round.

A State Government spokeswoman said program participation was voluntary.

“Local governments choose to submit project proposals for consideration, with demonstrated community support for the project being a key decision criteria,” she said.

“Project costs vary for a variety of reasons including the size of projects, ground conditions and the network infrastructure required.”

“The selection criteria and funding arrangements for the program were changed by the former State Government to increase the focus on network security improvements and better align contribution shares with the benefits received by program participants, such as increases in property values.”

She said consideration of future funding rounds would incorporate feedback from round six.

Seventeen projects are part of the current round, including Trigg, and expected to be finished by late 2021.