Norman electricity powerline politics
(Mike Allen)

Tree lovers versus the power company?

More like two sides — a city and a utility — who are almost in agreement, yet quite distant at the same time.

On Tuesday, Norman residents will vote on a proposed franchise agreement with OG&E, which would formally grant the electric utility access to city rights of ways and easements, while also affirming the “franchise fee” collected by OG&E on customer bills and remitted to the city.

Tuesday’s vote comes about one year after Norman voters roundly rejected a similar proposal, and OG&E has pulled out all the stops this time: circulating a petition to call the vote, hiring canvassers to knock doors, standing up billboards that say “Yes for Linemen,” and sending a dozen mailers to customers’ houses.

Despite the very real chance that all of these campaign expenses are simply making voters more cynical about the price of their bills, passage of the proposition will largely depend on whether people think the company has agreed to address a myriad of concerns they’ve had over the past several years. At the heart of the debate: powerlines and the problems associated with them.

While power company executives will tell you it’s too expensive, your average individual would like to see more powerlines buried to avoid storm damage and loss of services. Similarly, residents in Norman — and elsewhere — have been irritated with the ways vegetation is managed around them. Put simply: People aren’t real keen on herbicides or extreme tree trimming.

In residents’ defense, there are some truly beautiful, mature trees lining the streets of Norman, especially near the area of OU’s campus. It’s fairly easy to see how anyone would want to preserve them as they are. It’s also unfortunate that they come into contact with power lines, thus creating the rub with OG&E.

If the vote fails again this week, the two parties’s “implied contract” will continue for a time, but in theory something will have to give at some point. Could another power provider step up and offer to buy OG&E out of its existing grid?

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