Representatives from Duke Energy want some Gulfport residents to allow easements in their front yards for underground utility lines.
Duke asked some property owners in Gulfport and other South Pinellas areas to agree to 10-foot easements in front of their homes for the placement of underground power lines. In exchange, Duke will pay the homeowners $1, according to easement request documents obtained by The Gabber.
The effort is part of grid, infrastructure, and technology improvements in southern Pinellas and beach communities. The power company presented details on its efforts to Gulfport officials in October 2021.
Duke spokesperson Ana Gibbs said the local improvements include installing 40 miles of underground lines serving 1,000 homes and 150 transformers. They are part of improvements linking into Duke’s substations at 51st Street South and Central Avenue, and near 69th Avenue South and Central Avenue.
As part of that effort, Duke representatives are reaching out to Gulfport residents about agreeing to the easement for underground lines.
Lisa McKinley, who lives on Newton Avenue, is one of those residents. She’s received notices and Duke Energy representatives have come to talk to her and her neighbors about the easements.
McKinley is skeptical of the utility push; she does not want a utility box in her front yard. She points to the alley behind her home
Residential lots in Gulfport often run 50 feet by 160 feet, and giving up 10 feet of that in the front yard is too much to give, she says.
“I can’t give you 10 feet — impossible,” she says. “I won’t give you 10 feet.”
Gibbs said the effort is part of a $6.5 billion, 10-year effort to bring more technology that will help avoid power outages, especially during storms.
“In 2020, smart, self-healing technology helped to avoid nearly 290,000 extended outages in Florida, saving customers around 18.9 million minutes of service interruption, nearly double the hours saved in 2019. Currently, nearly 45% of customers in Florida receive smart-thinking grid technology and the goal is to be at 80% by 2027,” Gibbs said.
She said utility engineers try to work underground lines and improved infrastructure around property owners who do not agree to easements.
“When a customer declines, our engineers look to the closest neighbors to ensure the spacing works. The project is then redesigned to ensure quality distribution occurs. If no one accepts equipment, projects are in jeopardy of being cancelled since participating in an underground project is voluntary,” Gibbs said.
She also said the utility industry has moved to more front yard easements over the back of properties.
“This is for the safety of our maintenance crews as well as the customers. To have crews in the back yards of customers creates risk for both. This is why construction of new neighborhoods is underground with front lot transformers. More simply put, placing equipment in front of homes makes access easier and faster for maintenance and to restore outages if they occur,” Gibbs said.
Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly said the easements are between Duke Energy and its customers since they would be on private property.