Burying Power Lines: A Shocking Cost

The Marietta Daily Journal of September 27, 2017 published a letter to the editor in the midst of recovery from recent hurricanes that downed power lines and prompted calls for utilities to bury the lines. The letter writer raised some salient points about the inconvenience and financial and environmental cost of burying the lines. The letter can be accessed on the newspaper’s website here and is reprinted in its entirety below.  

Burying power lines would unearth problems

Each time a major weather catastrophe occurs, along with the clamor about “climate change” being the causative factor, there is additional, ubiquitous uproar regarding the replacement of above-ground power lines with underground utility delivery. A few years ago, I responded to that clamor but felt it necessary to revisit the recent uproar.

Many people believe that by burying the power lines, all our utility problems would vanish with the unsightly poles and wires that dot our daily visage. Outside of the monumental and staggering costs to attempt the virtually impossible feat, there are other considerations that are overlooked by those who would oversimplify the undertaking. To wit:

 ♦ Even if Georgia Power could bury all its lines, customers’ monthly bills would increase to possibly 10 times what they are paying now.

♦ Those customers currently with overhead service would have to pay an electrician to convert their homes to receive underground service.

♦ All other utilities on poles (cable, phone, etc.) would need to buried, and their customers would have to bear those costs as well.

♦ Millions of trees along roads and right of ways would need to be removed to bury utility lines. In addition, right of way construction for this undertaking would cost trillions of dollars as well as disruption of traffic to an unprecedented degree.

♦ There would possibly be extended outages and repairs dues to the lines being underground and it being harder to locate, isolate and repair the problems.

♦ Major cities do not have all of their lines buried underground. In downtown areas, they may have underground networks, which serves large buildings, but this does not typically go beyond the downtown areas. Also, many newer subdivisions are served by underground distribution, but the lines serving these subdivisions are overhead.

♦ Utility transmission stations which would be underground, would still be at risk for flood damage and closure. In fact, if Houston’s complete infrastructure would have been underground after Harvey, the area still would be without utility service to this day as a result of the continued flooding.

While we all would like the pristine and uncluttered view, choosing to go underground would be prohibitive for a number of reasons: cost, safety, efficiency, etc. We have the greatest utility system in the world and I can’t see why we shouldn’t keep it that way.

Larry Underkoffler

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