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Underground Power Transmission | Utilities Begin to Consider More Underground Lines

Posted by Sarah Battaglia
Sarah Battaglia
Sarah Battaglia has been our in-house Copywriter and Social Media Specialist since 2011. Born and raised in O...
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on Monday, 26 November 2012 in ECS

After years of downed power lines and widespread blackouts, utilities are beginning to consider transferring electrical lines below ground. Some are in favor, as it will be a more stable alternative. Others are against this project, however, arguing that it will cost millions of dollars to implement. With the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy still in the hearts and minds of many, affecting the power of over 8.5 million homes and businesses across 21 states, many utilities are developing more preventative measures.

Power suppliers Dominion Resources and Pepco Holdings have been investigating if moving electrical lines underground would be a viable choice. Studies have shown that the frequency of outages is 50 percent lower when electrical lines are buried; however, the average length of an underground outage is 58 percent longer. Since the time to repair underground lines tends to be quite lengthy, these customers are typically among the last to have power restored.

Another factor to be considered is long term reliability. As underground power lines get older, they start to become untrustworthy, requiring additional maintenance and repairs.

Cost is another issue (and probably the largest issue) for utilities to think about before attempting this massive project. Installing new transmission lines below ground is projected to cost eight to ten times the amount of installing them above ground, and distribution lines usually cost four to six times more. Transferring existing overhead power lines underground is a whole other venture and could cost between $1 million and $2.1 million per mile.

Despite these costs, Baltimore Gas & Electric has already begun the process and buried over 60 percent of its system. Over the next few months, the state Board of Public Utilities will be exploring the opportunity of “selective” burying of underground lines. In other countries like the U.K., the Netherlands, and Germany, burying power lines is routine, protecting them from wind, ice, and other harmful factors.

John Miksad, Senior Vice President for electric operations at Consolidated Edison shared his opinion on the matter, “There is no system that is bulletproof, whether you bury it, whether you put it up on poles, some force of nature can get you. As powerful as we like to think we are, human designs do have their limitations.”

Taking into account the total estimated cost of $22 billion, Miksad also stated that Con Ed has rejected the idea of burying all of its overhead power lines in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Westchester, and the Bronx, despite the effect Superstorm Sandy recently had on each of these areas.

After considering the costs and benefits of underground power lines, Stephanie Brand, director of the Division of the Rate Counsel which is New Jersey’s official advocate for utility customers, has expressed her views against this development. “It would be insane. It’s extremely expensive. If it’s a million dollars a mile, which is a figure I’ve heard, you’d have to have 50 of these storms before it would start to pay for itself.”

It is clear that several utilities remain in the decision process. Underground electrical lines could certainly protect customers from power outages, but is the hefty price tag worth it? It seems as though overhead and underground power lines are equally effective, but each community is different and has various aspects to consider before going forward with this undertaking.

Sarah Battaglia
Energy Curtailment Specialists, Inc.

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Sarah Battaglia has been our in-house Copywriter and Social Media Specialist since 2011. Born and raised in Orchard Park, NY, Sarah holds a Bachelors degree in Business Administration and Marketing from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Out of the office, she has a passion for baking delectable desserts, cooking for her family, and riding her bike.

Subscribe to her energy news feed to stay current on trends within the market. She can be found on LinkedIn and Google+.

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