Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans
Bury Power Lines to Avert Power Outages
Millions of East Coast Americans from New Jersey to North Carolina were without power following a violent storm June 29 (Associated Press and Yahoo News). Electricity transmission and distribution lines were knocked over by the storm, and many neighborhoods were warned they could remain in the dark for much of this week. So far, there have been 22 deaths related to the storm and power outages. The death toll could rise due to sweltering temperatures and lack of air conditioning.
This follows a spate of power outages due to inclement weather in Saskatchewan June 25-27 (Canadian Press) and in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia June 1 (Washington Post).
CNN also reported on the most recent Eastern U.S. Seaboard power outages, and suggested that perhaps it’s time North Americans more seriously consider burying power lines to avert all the power outages and associated deaths, damages and millions of dollars in transmission infrastructure repair. The CNN article explains that the German power grid has outages at an average rate of only 21 minutes per year because they bury most of their power lines.
Most electricity transmission and distribution companies grossly overestimate the capital costs of burying power lines. They guesstimate anywhere from 4 to 20 times the cost of burying lines when compared to building above ground with poles and towers. AltaLink and EPCOR estimated that it would cost only 1.7 times as much to bury part of the Heartland power line in Edmonton and Sherwood Park when compared to building it above ground. More accurate estimates put the capital cost of burying part of this line at only 15% more than overhead. And these costs pertain to only capital costs. When capital, maintenance and transmission loss costs are combined over the life of the line, buried lines are less expensive than overhead lines. And, when property devaluation near unsightly overhead lines and repair costs for overhead electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure brought down by storms are added into the equation, buried lines are much cheaper than overhead lines.
Why then, are so many transmission companies, governments and regulators in North America reluctant to bury power lines, especially considering that underground lines essentially eliminate the negative property value, environmental, health, safety, visual, tourism, agriculture, livestock, pipeline and aircraft impacts of overhead lines?