Joining the Underground

I can understand how hard it is to restore power after a storm. I appreciate the endless work that the crews put in over many weeks.

What I can’t understand is why the power companies are stuck in contingent action and don’t employ preventive action. Over the long haul, isn’t it cheaper to bury all the power, phone, internet, and cable lines than it is to continually reconstruct them? And isn’t it both environmentally and aesthetically far superior?

We have a power infrastructure that dates from the beginnings of the discovery of electricity. And we’re thinking about missions to Mars? Will they be powered by a very long extension cord?

4 thoughts on “Joining the Underground

  1. I work for the largest utility in the U.S. and can tell you that the electric companies would certainly like to do such a thing. But…there isn’t a business case for it yet or they would have done it.
    I’m not a budgeting or rate case expert by any means, but I do know that such a large (preventive) cost would likely involve a rate increase that would have to be approved by commissions. Rate commissions always balk at capital expenditures that are not urgent due to pressure from consumer groups.
    You and I both know preventive is better than contingent, but in this case the politics and initial cost of the matter combined cause it to be a less attractive option.
    And I agree with your assessment of the restoration of power. Line workers often endure severe conditions to restore power. People should buy them coffee rather than chastising them for working only two or three days without rest…

    • The business case is simple: X number of storms will be more expensive than the investment in burying lines. And all power companies need to be run far better. Their default is to simply pass on costs to customers, but never savings. Public utility commissions are no better.

  2. There was an interesting study on the blackouts after the pre-Halloween snowstorm some years ago. It showed that customers of public utilities suffered fewer blackouts than customers of private utilities. The reason was that the public utilities took preventive action (cutting trees next to power lines) while the private utilities didn’t. The ROI showed the private companies right (it was cheaper to restore than to prevent), but the customers of the public companies were happier.

  3. It’s snowing heavily again here as I write this. (Global warming, anyone?) The ultimate preventive is to take lines out of harm’s way, which is also the aesthetic solution. You can’t denude the surroundings of trees, and many very healthy ones that no one would have pruned were toppled in the last storm, as more will be today.

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