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Burying power lines - The Frederick News-Post : Archive

Burying power lines

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Posted: Saturday, July 7, 2012 12:00 am

The recent strong, damaging storms have renewed calls by some for buried power lines that would be impervious to acts of God -- which seem to be more prevalent these days.

There's no arguing that buried power lines would spare power users a lot of grief in the way of power failures caused by high winds, falling trees, blizzards, flooding, high heat, accidents, etc.

The big argument against replacing above-ground lines with buried ones is cost. According to a recent Associated Press story, the Electric Power Research Institute estimates that the cost of relocating above-ground lines underground would be somewhere between $5 million and $15 million per mile, depending on the circumstances.

Whatever the actual cost might be, it would be passed on to ratepayers in the form of higher electricity bills. Were this change to take place in Washington, which experienced some major problems as a result of the recent storms, that cost could raise the average power bill by as much as $107 a month.

Clearly, this change would be extremely costly and take a long time to complete. However, as electric power infrastructure continues to age, it will require more and more maintenance, upgrading and replacement. We wonder if there is not a point at which the best -- and most cost-effective -- course of action would be to start moving suspended wiring underground.

Reliability is a core requirement when it comes to power infrastructure. When this critical service is susceptible to bad weather, which there seems to be more of these days, its reliability is diminished. Being without electric power for hours or days is a trying experience. Ask those who recently lost their service how important it would be to them to be free of the vagaries of Mother Nature when it comes to the electricity they depend upon.

Moreover, though repairing storm-damaged electric transmission lines and other equipment may not approach the cost of moving lines underground, it is far from a minor expense.

The nation's transportation infrastructure is a subject of great concern, with thousands of bridges, roads and highways in need of major repair or replacement. Remedying this situation will be an expensive and time-consuming enterprise, yet it must be done.

Perhaps that same mindset should be applied to relocating aging, damage-prone above-ground wiring. There's no denying that it would be expensive and likely take decades, but the benefits would be significant and long-lasting.

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