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Tucson voters asked to fund underground power lines, climate action

Are you willing to pay an extra dollar or two in your monthly electricity bill to bury new power lines in Tucson and support future city efforts to combat climate change?

That is the question posed to Tucson voters in the May 16 special city election to approve Tucson Power’s new franchise agreement.

The new agreement will be put to vote as Proposition 412.

The city has mailed an information pamphlet to registered voters and plans to mail ballots on Wednesday, April 19.

The proposed franchise agreement, put to a vote by the city council in late January, would replace the current agreement, which expires in 2026.

The new agreement includes a current 2.25% franchise fee paid on revenues from TEP customers within the city limits, plus a new 0.75% franchise fee to fund underground installations of power lines and the city’s climate-related initiatives. % of the “community resilience fee” is included.

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The change will increase the average residential TEP customer’s bill by an estimated 93 cents per month and small business customers’ bills by $2.65 per month, the utility said. Larger power users will pay more.

According to the city, the current franchise agreement brings in about $14 million in annual revenue, and a 0.75% price increase would generate about $5 million in additional revenue annually.

“Underground” power lines

The new agreement was negotiated primarily to generate additional revenue to cover TEP’s proposed underground installation costs. 138 kV transmission line from Kino to DeMoss-Petrie.

The new line will run approximately 11 miles from South Kino Parkway and East 36th Street north through the University of Arizona campus and the city to a power substation, and will have utility poles 75 to 110 feet high.

However, the project has faced fierce backlash from residents of the city and historic districts over an ordinance banning overhead power lines in city-designated scenic corridors and gateway corridors.

TEP said going underground for this project would be too costly, costing more than 13 times the cost of an overhead line, or about $60 million more to bury six miles of transmission line, adding additional costs to foreign customer bills. He said it was unfair to add to Tucson city limits.

Opponents say the power lines and tall utility poles will create visual devastation in historic neighborhoods such as Jefferson Park and Sam Hughes and reduce property values.

Promoting Climate Change Action in Tucson

Under the proposed franchise agreement, part of the funds raised from the franchise fee increase will be used to make the entire city “carbon neutral” by 2045, with the goal of making the entire city “carbon neutral.” It could be used for projects that advance the city’s recently approved Climate Change Response and Adaptation Plan. Facilities achieving similar status by 2030.

Specific initiatives based on this plan include the decarbonization of buildings and facilities owned and operated by the city, the promotion of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar power generation, the expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and the use of vehicles by public institutions. transition to zero-emission vehicles and net zero-emission vehicles.

A 0.75% fee generated for the first 10 years of the agreement will have the highest priority of funding to pay for the undergrounding of TEP transmission lines, while 10% of fee income will be allocated annually to climate change projects. It will be.

The use of climate funds will be made by a five-member committee consisting of two city representatives, two TEP representatives, and one third-party commissioner approved by either the city or the TEP, or both. It will be overseen by a committee.

Apart from the new tolls, under the new franchise agreement, up to one-ninth of the 2.25% franchised tolls will go toward helping low-income residents, moving power lines underground, or advancing the city’s climate change goals.

go farther

The new franchise deal is backed by TEP, the mayor and most of the city council.

“Approval of this measure will support service reliability, energy resilience and sustainability across the community,” said TEP spokesman Joe Barrios.

Citing the poor condition of some transformers in the area, he said, “It is critical to improve the part of the energy grid that serves customers throughout the Midtown area, especially.” .

Barrios said that if Prop 412 were to fail, TEP would have to spend more than $12 million to bolster the old low-voltage system to maintain service.

“We need to keep working towards long-term improvements with greater capacity to meet our customers’ growing energy demands,” he said.

A mandate to fund the city’s future climate plan was added late in the negotiation process for the new franchise agreement, but 3rd Ward Councilman Kevin Dahl said it was an important addition. rice field.

“I am very proud that the mayor and city council have been able to work on this,” said Dahl, noting that this is the city’s first franchise agreement to address climate change. “Some may argue that it is not enough, but I am proud to have negotiated it and I think it will have a positive impact.”

City Councilman Steve Kozaczyk, who feels that the deal hasn’t gone far enough, initially voiced concerns of neighbors about TEP’s overhead power line proposal.

Kozaczyk said TEP should use some of its own money to help advance Tucson’s climate change goals, rather than simply collecting tolls from toll payers.

“TEP should take financial responsibility on climate change and renewable energy issues rather than votes,” Kozaczyk said in an email.

pros and cons

Public comments on the project submitted to TEP overwhelmingly opposed the construction of overhead high voltage lines, with more solar energy installations at the neighborhood level reducing the need for transmission lines through the city. There was also an opinion.

Besides Dahl, other supporters of the new deal include Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, City Council members Lane Santa Cruz, Paul Cunningham and Nikki Lee. Sam Hughes Neighborhood Association. According to the Underground Coalition’s steering committee, which includes about a dozen neighborhood associations, yes on 412a city-registered political action committee supported by TEP shareholder funds.

Other supporters include the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, the Sun Corridor Company, the Tucson Police Officers Association, the Tucson Firefighters Association IAFF Local 479, and several current and former members of Congress.

Among the organized opponents of the new TEP franchise deal is the Strong Community Foundation, a non-profit voter education organization that supports conservative, free-market values, based in Phoenix, Arizona. There is a group called Prop 412 Facts.

Website launched by the group opposes community resilience costs imposed by Proposition 412 and funding Tucson’s Climate Action Plan to narrow some streets to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians Citing the proposal, it said it would “permanently block access to small businesses.” ‘ as an infringement of personal choice, will reduce private cars by 40% by 2050 and establish Tucson as a ’15 minute city’ (where people can walk or bike 15 minutes to school, work and shops). It is stipulated.

but Prop 412 Facts Website Nowhere does it say that 90% of the new tolls will be paid for TEP’s proposed underground transmission lines for at least the first decade.

The Pima County Republican Party also voiced its opposition to the new TEP franchise agreement, citing Prop 412 Facts.

City of Tucson Proposition 412 Information (includes full text of proposed new franchise agreement with Tucson Power Company)

how to vote

To vote in the special election, you must reside in the city of Tucson on or after April 16, be registered to vote on or before April 17, and be 18 years of age or older on Election Day May 16. There must be

Your vote-by-mail ballot must be sent by May 10 to ensure it reaches City Hall by Election Day.

Voters will return their voted and sealed ballots at multiple return centers from Wednesday, April 19 through Election Day, or at six polling locations from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. I can.

Drop-off locations include the Tucson Clerk’s Election Center at 800 E. 12th Street. Ballots may be mailed from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays from April 19 to May 15, and from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. It also serves as a direct voting location.

Other drop-off locations are the Pima County Registrar’s Downtown Office at 240 N. Stone Ave. and the County Registrar’s Elections Office at 6550 S. Country Club Road on the same days and times as the city’s elections centers. will be split.

Voted ballots may also be dropped off at the following polling locations on Election Day: Housing and Area Development Authority, 310 N. Commerce Park Loop. Morris K. Udall Regional Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road; Donna R. Liggins Recreation Center, 2160 N. Sixth Ave.; William Clements Recreation Center, 8155 E. Poinciana Drive; El Pueblo Senior Center, 101 W. Irvington Road; and Parks and Recreation Administration (Randolph Park, 900 S. Randolph Way).

At the polling place on Election Day, voters can bring their vote-by-mail ballots and vote in person to drop them in the ballot box. Or, receive a Vote-by-Mail Alternative Ballot to vote.

Check out some innovative but often overlooked energy-saving strategies to help you and your wallet survive the sweltering Tucson summers.

David Witchner

Please contact Senior Reporter David Wichner at or 520-573-4181. Twitter: @dwichner. On facebook:

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