Cleveland Public Power Needs Infrastructure Upgrades, City Official Says

Utility poles in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood.
Utility poles in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood. [Matt Richmond / ideastream]
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Cleveland City Council questioned utility officials on Tuesday about how they’ll prevent power outages this summer. But the conversation turned toward Cleveland Public Power’s long-term needs.

CPP leaders said they’ve stepped up maintenance in recent months, trimming more trees around power lines. They’re also deploying sensors this summer to detect problems in the system, Commissioner Ivan Henderson said.

Council President Kevin Kelley pressed the administration to explain how it will prevent outages in the summer months, when residents’ air conditioners put more strain in the system. An outage last August left some 40,000 customers without power on the west side.

“I’ve never called and not gotten a response,” Kelley said. “I’ve never not gotten timely service, but I am extremely concerned about the overall health of the system.”

Public Utilities Director Robert Davis told council that the city’s electric infrastructure needs help beyond short-term maintenance. He said the system needs $175 million to $200 million in improvements.

“Our system is aging,” Davis said. “Let’s make no mistake about that. Maintenance alone is not going to take care of this situation as a whole. We haven’t raised rates or had any type of rate discussion, in terms of base rates, for 35 years.”

Davis said CPP spends 13 cents of every dollar on infrastructure, but that it’s not enough. Last year, the utility hired NewGen to study CPP’s rates, finances and capital needs.

Councilman Brian Kazy said Davis seemed to be laying the foundation to talk about how to pay for that infrastructure.

“And that’s only going to come, probably, from one place, which is down the line a possible rate increase,” Kazy said. “So we know that this side of the table has been waiting for the rate study for some time.”

Davis said he hopes to share the results of the rate study with council in the coming months. He said the city intends for the study to be comprehensive, examining more than just CPP’s finances.

“That’s why we’re taking the time,” he said. “Because we want to bring you something that you can hold your hat on and say, ‘Look, I can make, based on the facts, I can make an educated decision.’”

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