Supporters of burying high-voltage lines between Providence and East Providence waited 11 years for a detailed estimate of how much the project would cost. Now that it’s in, they have sticker shock.
After studying the project for most of 2014, utility National Grid last month pegged the cost of the long-debated project at $34 million, more than double what the project was thought to initially cost back in 2003, and $11 million more than the best guess last year.
That means the money set aside by state leaders to pay for the project would only cover about half its current cost, raising new questions about the prospects of an effort that has already languished for more than a decade.
To make sure that National Grid’s numbers add up, Providence and East Providence officials have proposed conducting an independent review of the study before deciding whether to forge ahead.
It is, after all, ratepayers in those two cities who will fill in any gaps with a surcharge on their electric bills.
“I do think there is a chance the cost is overblown and I am pushing for a review,” said Providence resident David Riley, president of the Friends of India Point Park, which has championed the power-line project.
Explaining why the new cost estimate is so much larger than the previous one, National Grid spokesman David Graves said the new estimate accounted for several factors that hadn’t been considered before.
Those include extensive underground surveys and analysis to determine what crews will come across once they begin digging, design of the underwater cable itself and $1.9 million to acquire a privately owned parking lot next to Al Forno restaurant at the intersection of Bridge Street and Tockwotton Street. The property will be the site of a “transition station” where the cable can be accessed by a manhole where it emerges from the Providence River crossing.
Then there is the natural escalation of material and labor costs over seven years, Graves said.
Where both Providence and East Providence officials had questions about the estimate are its margin of error.
National Grid said the actual cost of the project could be 25 percent lower or higher than $33.9 million, but also included a $5.5 million “contingency” for unexpected costs. If the contingency is in addition to the 25 percent tolerance, they would account for $14 million, or 41 percent of the total project cost.
“There are a number of open questions, including whether the tolerance of plus or minus 25 percent includes or does not reflect nearly $6 million in anticipated contingencies,” said Providence Deputy City Solicitor Adrienne Southgate in an email.