Thursday, September 21, 2017

Should we bury our power lines?

I live on a private road with three neighbors, and our electrical, telephone and cable lines are buried. However, they connect at the main road to lines on poles.

This protects us during a power outage from damage at our individual houses, which is traditionally the last thing repair crews tend to.

Be careful out there.
I've always thought that it would be worthwhile to bury every electrical line to prevent the kind of devastation that hit Florida, Texas and now Puerto Rico.

Not so fast, Sparky.

Theodore Kury, Ph. D. Director of Energy Studies at the University of Florida’s Public Utility Research Center where he studies the economic impacts of energy policy, has actually studied this. Don't you hate people who take all the fun out of your speculating?

His bottom line: The answer is not that straightforward. Burying power lines, also called undergrounding, is expensive, requires the involvement of many stakeholders and might not solve the problem at all.

The huge cost is something most people won't want to pay. Burying power lines costs roughly US$1 million per mile, but the geography or population density of the service area can halve this cost or triple it. 

However, here's something else to think about. In addition to the capital cost, undergrounding may make routine maintenance of the system more difficult, and thus more expensive, because of reduced accessibility to power lines. This may also make it more difficult to repair the system when outages do occur, prolonging the duration of each outage.

Theodore, you have ruined my day.

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