Underground cabling may start early next year

Members of the Public Utilities Group of Iloilo meet with Councilor Rommel Duron to discuss the proposed underground cabling project in Iloilo City. The project aims to get rid of unsightly and perilous spaghetti or tangled utility cables and wires.

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

Burying utility cable wires in Iloilo City’s historic area may start as early as 2023, according to the city’s power distributor on Thursday.

The Public Utilities Group of Iloilo (PUGI), a group of utility providers servicing the city, met at the Iloilo City Hall on Thursday to kick off discussions on the eventual installation of their respective companies’ cables underground.

The attendees included MORE Power, Converge, Globe Telecom, Smart, PLDT, Sky Cable, Panay Broadband, and DITO Telecommunications.

MORE Power Deputy Head of Network Operations Engr. Bailey Del Castillo told Daily Guardian that the PUGI reached an initial agreement to split the costs, which they estimated to be at P150 million.

Their draft agreement provides that the telecommunications companies would shoulder P54 million for the underground trench for their own underground cables, while the power distributor will shoulder P96 million for their own trench.

“We talked about how the telcos are going to finance the [P54 million] because they may be able to divide that among them. That’s one of the options. If there are five of them, then that would be divided,” Del Castillo said in a phone interview.

Del Castillo said another suggestion was for the power provider to shoulder the entire cost with the telcos paying rent to MORE Power.

“There was also the suggestion that [MORE Power] would finance the whole P150 million, and they would just rent along the trench that we would allocate for them. We still need to discuss it,” he added.

They likewise agreed on a “hybrid” underground design, which will hide the high-voltage lines at the lateral roads through individual buildings, with transformers and poles remaining above ground.

He said the hybrid design would be 54 percent cheaper in contrast to a “full underground layout”, which will also see transformer equipment and high-voltage wires to be underground.

The electrical and telco trenches will be separately laid out in the technical design, which he said would be safer.

The underground wiring installation will run from the corner of Burgos Street at Plaza Libertad, along the full stretch of Calle Real (J.M. Basa Street) up to Arroyo Street, spanning 843 meters on each side, to a total of 1.6 kilometers.

The unfortunate news for consumers here—the costs shouldered by MORE Power would be levied on our electric bills in the next 30 years.

Del Castillo explained that this will be applied to all consumers, not just to those along the areas where the lines will be transferred underground.

He added that they are still seeking to find ways to lower the total costs to ease the burden on customers.

“Per our initial calculations, even if we will shoulder everything, the impact is very small, because it will be spread to 30 years. As we have seen initially, that is only around P0.025 centavos, so that’s very small, and would not be seen in the bill based on our initial calculation,” he stated.

As to when the project will start and end, Del Castillo said that this would depend on their agreements on responsibilities as well as the subsequent approval of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

The ERC application will also include the rate impact or the costs that will be passed on to the customers.

But he added that should everything go smoothly, they are looking to start the project by next year.

“Everything that we will do here needs to be approved first by the ERC before we can proceed. Within this year we hope that it will be approved, and then we can start the bidding process. Within the year maybe can already award after the approval of the PRC, then maybe early next year, the ground works can start,” he said.

Del Castillo also mentioned that there would be power interruptions for some portions during the schedule of the removal of the overhead lines. These will be announced before the start of works.

The city government is aiming for underground wiring in the stretch of downtown Iloilo to aid in tourism efforts, as wirings have been a main concern for years due to their blocking of the historic buildings’ view.

The Sangguniang Panlungsod in May passed Resolution No. 2022-493, requesting MORE Power to conduct the underground installation.

But the city council’s public utilities committee chairperson, Councilor Romel Duron, admitted in radio interviews that he did not take the telecommunications providers into account at the time.

Duron said that he plans to pass an ordinance to institutionalize the underground installation of cable wires in the city, and added that the PUGI meeting was the ‘first step’ in ensuring proper consultation with public utilities providers.