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The Problem with Burying Power Lines

By James Burgess | Thu, 26 July 2012 21:51 | 2

Severe storms can often knock out power lines, leaving millions without electricity for anywhere between a few hours, to several days or more. Burying the cables would avoid the risk of breakages during violent weather, so why don’t utility companies install all their power lines underground?

In a 2010 report by the District of Columbia Public Service Commission, it was found that more than 1000 power outages could be prevented each year by burying all overhead lines in the DC area. However such an endeavour would cost $5.8 billion and add $226 to monthly electric bills for ten years.

When looking to bury power lines, utilities must dismantle existing overhead cables, they must also factor in the increased cost that repairs to the buried lines will incur, especially as they don’t last as long underground, and must be dug up and fully removed when old or broken. How these costs weigh up against the high costs of blackouts will be the deciding factor in any decision made.

In a recent study the EIA found that underground lines can cost as much as five to ten times more than overhead lines, although prices vary wildly from city to city.

In Manhattan where construction crews are already digging foundations for new buildings, burying the cables is relatively easy and cheap. The county of Anaheim, California, has also found it relatively cheap to bury power lines, charging just an extra four percent to customer’s utility bills. However the costs in places such as Colorado, which has a granite bedrock, or Florida, whose water table is very high, are too great to justify underground installation.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com

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  • Mark Goldes on July 27 2012 said:
    If our Chava Ultraconductor (polymer room temperature equivalents of superconductors) program resumes as presently seems likely, within 5 years plastic cables can be buried underground.

    The materials operate up to 200 degrees C (390 F) and are expected to carry up to 1 Billion amperes per sq. cm.

    Thus the cables can be low voltage - high current.

    Much less likely to cost more than overhead lines or need as much maintenance.
  • Craig King on July 27 2012 said:
    Here in Cape Town the power cables are underground because of the high winds we get. The added benefit is one of aesthetics.

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