Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man

Should we bury our power lines?

Popular Mechanics has a good article on the subject here. Pros and cons (the cons being mostly the expense) but you’ll get a good understanding  of the issues involved, I believe.

It can be somewhat affordable to use underground power cables when you’re starting from scratch; developers building new housing tracts can install buried power cables alongside fiberoptics lines and water systems.

But retrofitting is much pricier. “If you’re talking about a built environment where the lines are already up and you’d have to dig through peoples’ lawns and driveways, it becomes prohibitively expensive,” Garvin says.

For example, in a new suburban neighborhood, installing ordinary overhead power lines costs about $194,000 per mile on average. Installing underground power lines would cost $571,000 per mile. And to retrofit an older suburban neighborhood with underground lines, the costs climb up to an average of $724,000 per mile.

For high-voltage transmission lines—the thick cables typically slung between towers that carry electricity across long distances—new underground installations can cost as much as $23 million per mile. Those costs get deflected to the consumer.

Buried lines are no protection against floods, so Old Greenwich would have gone dark regardless, but the rest of the town would be sitting pretty today if our system were immune from falling trees. While I don’t see how we could afford to do this, the PM article closes with a quote from a Swiss source who points out that his country put its lines underground decades ago and wonders why on (in?) earth we don’t do the same. Probably because there’s nothing sexy about a politician standing in front of a ditch digger, but there you have it.


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14 responses to “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man

  1. OG17

    How much have we spent in just the last few years after all these major storms, not to mention the economic costs???

  2. pulled up in OG

    North Mianus sewer project x 100?

    This town can’t afford the cops directing the traffic, never mind the friggin’ job itself.

  3. Fred2

    Also, all of Switzerland is smaller than about 41 of the 57 ( ha!) states.

    It comes down to how much you want to spend per KwH and most people have voted with their pocket books.

    If it’s short sighted, I’d like to see the math. ( bury at risk lines : X trillion , potential saving Y Trillion ( all in present value over 20 years) with probability distributions over the savings and costs, and a divided cost per KwH.

    Betcha it ain’t worth it.

  4. AJ

    Forget about utility lines: there’s a thousand foot high tsunami headed for the east coast that should wipeout everything at least twelve miles inland; it’s a certainty. the only question is whether it will hapen tomorrow or one-hundred and fifty years from now. Call Obama and Bloomberg on what their plans are to deal with this.

  5. Cos Cobber

    Pulled up, wow…we agree….a rarity.

  6. HD

    Just took a little drive around Riverside and OG, and saw an electric crew from Western Mass on Tomac near Innis Arden and another crew working at Riverside Ave and Indian Head, the latter team looking worn out.

  7. Demmerkrat Patriot

    Greenwich, like many New England communities, pre-dated electricity. At the time, the power companies installed the technology they knew would work. Also keep in mind that the poles may have been placed by the telephone company first. Much cheaper and easier when the infrastructure already exists.

    So with the 2nd (or 3rd?) highest electric rates in the US (after power company deregulation), I’m not sure you’ll find a large consensus to have our rates go up with the costs of burying power lines.

  8. CatoRenasci

    The was significant discussion about burying the power lines after some the storms last year and the year before. It is expensive as hell, and (perhaps even more difficult) requires the coordination of power, phone and cable companies to accomplish. And, if you do have flooding, or otherwise have damage (e.g. a transformer blows) that needs to be repaired, it is much more expensive to repair than overhead lines, unsightly as they are.

    However, what the Town of Greenwich should do is cost it out, with the expected tax increases to pay for the bonding necessary to do it (at various interest rate assumptions), and put it to a referendum: Are you willing to create a power district with the ability to tax for putting the infrastructure underground and then to maintain it.

    I’d use a separate district so that the politicians couldn’t keep taxes up and spend it on other things once the power infrastructure was fixed.

    Even if we buried the Greenwich infrastructure, we’re dependent on transmission lines that will not be buried any time in the near or far future.

    I wouldn’t vote to spend the money. My wife would. I’m really not sure whether the Town would vote to do it or not.

    As a rule of thumb, if it doubled taxes, you would lower the value of a house in Greenwich by the net present value of a permanent stream of cost equal to the incremental increase. At today’s low interest rates, that’s pretty substantial.

  9. Anonymous

    I know someone in Stamford in a neighborhood with buried power lines. She, too, is out of power as there is an outage nearby on Westover Road. Buried lines do not prevent you from losing your electric service.

  10. Anonymous

    I think that $23 million per mile could power a lot of home generators for many years or develop of community basd power source…at least then we wouldn’t have to deal with the utility or government.

  11. Pokerone

    My thoughts have always run towards burying the lines just for aesthetics. Power companies don’t and politicians don’t press them to because the rate payer pays for the replacement work above ground. As long as the rate payer agrees, by not voicing an opinion, the wires will remain suspended above the street.

  12. FF

    Its simple and cheap – cut down the trees. No tree falls, no wires cut, no power out. There, problem solved. Now get tree hugging!

  13. Robert Wilson

    So assume $724,000 per mile, that would cost $251,228,00 to bury the 347 miles of line in Greenwich. Now divide that by about 27,000 households, that’s $9,304.75 per household. Using this per mile figure is a bit misleading… Also, not all of Old Greenwich floods, saying you have to bury all power lines in all areas is absurd. It makes sense in some areas not in others. But if there are fewer power lines, the quicker the response can be to areas with fallen trees. And lastly we are assuming the power lines need to be buried to people’s houses, that’s the $724,000 figure as we will have to tare up driveways and yards. Why can’t it be the responsibility of the homeowner to bury the line from their house to the road if they want it buried. This would drastically reduce the cost, and allow for people to deal with the situation in their own way, maybe they’d rather just cut down the trees that could land on the wires on their property, or bury the lines, or deal with the power outages if they happen because of a tree on their property.