The Power Line Environment Committee (PLEC) is a committee assisting the Minister responsible for the Electricity Act 1996 in assessing and recommending the undergrounding of overhead power lines.

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Details of the committee

The Committee comprises eight members, with one member representing the interests of each of the following:

  • Department of Environment and Heritage (or its equivalent)
  • Department for Infrastructure and Transport (or its equivalent)
  • Tourism interests
  • The Local Government Association of South Australia
  • Conservation interests
  • Holders of licenses under the Electricity Act which authorise the operation of networks (Network Licensees)
  • Two community representatives

The Committee operates under a Charter (PDF, 467.9 KB) assigned by the Minister in August 2000.

The Charter defines the scope of PLEC activities, its composition, financial arrangements, reporting requirements and associated administrative processes.

The Committee exists to assist local government with initiatives to enhance the aesthetics of a location by undergrounding power lines. Undergrounding can enable trees to be established and streetscaping projects to be completed, improving the appearance of a neighbourhood. The Committee has developed guidelines which define the roles and responsibilities for PLEC projects and provides guidance to the PLEC process. The Essential Services Commission of SA (ESCOSA) is responsible for the administration of PLEC.

Benefits of undergrounding

The focus of PLEC is to improve the environment of locations by undergrounding unsightly power lines and by assisting local government in achieving such initiatives.

To achieve maximum benefit, it’s recommended other elements of the streetscape are improved while the power lines are being installed underground. This can include improvement to stormwater drainage, paving, trees or other plantings, road resurfacing and possibly realignment. Harmonisation of signage, fascia upgrades of commercial properties and enhancement of heritage elements are also important contributions to the desired outcome.

PLEC encourages Councils to include streetscaping in their proposals for power line undergrounding projects.

The Charter of PLEC defines the purpose of undergrounding as “...to improve the aesthetics of an area for the benefit of the general community…” and PLEC will give priority to Councils who include streetscaping in their proposals. PLEC projects to date have focused on tourist areas, historical areas, and areas of commercial activity.

The economic case for streetscaping

On average, the overall cost of undergrounding power lines is in the order of $1,750 per metre of common service trench. The cost of streetscaping varies considerably and is estimated to be in the order of $100 to $200 per metre. The average total cost of PLEC projects is about $800,000 of which the cost to councils is around $270,000 per project. Streetscaping may add a further $70 to $150,000 to this cost over and above any new kerbing, guttering and reconstruction of the road surface etc. Therefore, streetscaping may add up to around 20% to the total project cost.

Businesses in streets that have previously had their power lines undergrounded and streetscaping improved have gained significantly from the commercial and community revitalisation brought about by the streetscaping initiative. Examples in urban areas of Adelaide include Hutt Street, Jetty Road, Brighton and Sir Donald Bradman Drive, while in the country, the commercial hearts of towns in popular tourist areas such as the Barossa Valley, the Copper Triangle, Eyre Peninsula and South Coast have been revitalised.

It is difficult to place an economic value on the commercial benefits gained through undergrounding and streetscaping, but businesses that have experienced such initiatives are enthusiastic about the benefits. It may be safely assumed that the ongoing benefit greatly exceeds the cost of streetscaping.

What streetscaping covers

Streetscaping plans can include the planting of new trees and garden beds (including adding to existing plantings), upgrading of pedestrian areas through the paving of footpaths and the installation of coordinated street furniture such as seating, signage (directional and commercial), bicycle racks, rubbish bins, decorative lighting and street art.

Further information can be found in Streetscaping: Gaining the full benefit of undergrounding power lines (PDF, 1.5 MB)

PLEC publications and resources

Publications

Annual reports