Completion of power line projects lowers bills

Fort Dodge residents may have noticed something missing from their most recent MidAmerican Energy electric bills.

Since 2010, there had been a line item on those bills called the city improvement fee, which paid for placing electric lines underground along Fifth Avenue South and Kenyon Road. The fee cost an average residential customer about $4 a month.

All that power line burial work has been done, and the city improvement fee last appeared on the bills of residents and businesses in February.

“The city committed to three projects,” said Chad Schaeffer, the city’s director of engineering, business affairs and community growth. “The three projects are done and paid for, and that city improvement fee has been removed from the MidAmerican bills.”

However, a new underground utility project is starting along First Avenue South, and the city improvement fee to pay for it will be added to utility bills beginning in January 2015.

The underground power line projects completed so far were part of the Fifth Avenue South/Kenyon Road Corridor of Commerce project, which upgraded the busiest route through the city.

The first power lines to go underground were along Fifth Avenue South between 21st and 29th streets. The work was done in 2009 at a cost of $1,569,648. The first city improvement fee was tacked onto the bills in 2010.

The power lines along Kenyon Road were buried in two phases in 2010 and 2011. The first phase cost $751,766; the fee to pay for it was added onto the bills in 2011.

The second phase of the Kenyon Road work, completed in 2011, cost $1,081,849. The fee to pay for it was added to MidAmerican Energy bills in 2012.

In 2012, the power lines along Fifth Avenue South between 29th and 32nd streets were moved underground at a cost of $1,921,140. The fee to pay for that work was added to the bills in February 2013.

When the City Council first made the decision to bury the power lines on Fifth Avenue South, it had two options to pay for the work. It could have directed MidAmerican Energy to recoup its costs via the city improvement fee or it could have paid for the work by borrowing money via a general obligation bond issue. The council opted for the city improvement fee for that first project and every subsequent one.

“It seems to be a very equitable way to pay for it,” said Mayor Matt Bemrich.

This year, the power lines along First Avenue South between Veterans Bridge and a point 850 feet east of 29th Street will be buried. That work is estimated to cost $1,520,733. The city improvement fee to be levied to pay for it will be about a half-cent per kilowatt, which is consistent with the previous fees.