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Listener Nancy Manahan asks:
Why do some neighborhoods have underground facilities? How does that happen? What are the pros/cons of having electricity poles underground versus above it?
Wildfire season will soon be upon California, which last year succumbed to one of the deadliest and costliest fires in the state’s history.
Just last month, Pacific Gas & Electric agreed to pay more than $55 million after its power lines ignited two major fires, including the Dixie Fire in 2021. The fire, which burned nearly one million acres across five counties in the Northern California, more than 600 million dollars to fight it.
Natural disasters range from wildfires to Tornadoes It stimulated discussions about whether utility companies should take the initiative to put their electricity grids underground. However, this process comes at a hefty price.
“People want to put them underground in places like California. But that’s very, very expensive in practice,” said Leah Stokes, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “So you need resources in this case at the state level to pay.” In exchange for creating these kinds of underground lines.”
Advantages of Above Ground Facilities
The high price acted as a deterrent. An estimate from the Edison Electric Institute in 2004 put the cost of building underground facilities at million dollars per mile, 10 times the cost of the overhead power line. That gap is starting to narrow, according to Clint Andrews, professor of urban planning at Rutgers University.
Figures from PG&E recently published indicate that burying overhead electric lines underground will cost About $3 million per mile, While the overhead lines would take $800,000 a mile to build.
Andrews explained that utility customers bear the cost, so it becomes part of everyone’s electric bills.
Larry Plank, associate professor of economics at New Mexico State University, said he has seen cases where the cost of working underground was shared among the entire service area, even though only one city was required to hide its facilities. He said some people might see that as unfair.
The electrical systems are very old, said Stokes of UC Santa Barbara, and some date back to the 1800s, meaning that some areas developed aboveground power lines before underground was an option.
She added that while above-ground utilities may be more prone to outages, fixing underground outages may be more difficult.
Geographical conditions also determine which setting may be appropriate for a particular area.
“If you live in a rural area where there is a lot of distance between homes, the cost per mile to put it underground is higher from the perspective of the individual utility user,” Stokes said.
I explained that you might have to run a line just a mile to get to one house in a rural area. Whereas in a more dense urban environment, tens of thousands of people may live close to each other.
Lowland areas with underground facilities are also more vulnerable to flood damage, Andrews said at Rutgers.
Advantages of underground facilities
Experts say that underground facilities can avoid some of the risks associated with overhead transportation, such as some natural disasters and accidents.
For some areas, it’s better to have underground facilities because of the higher frequency of storms, Blank said.
“Blizzards are horrific for overhead electrical utilities. These things are hanging on those wires, and the wires are falling off.”
Then there are more minor concerns about the visual blight of power lines obscuring your horizon.
“It looks nicer when you don’t have a bunch of wires everywhere. This is a strong consideration, especially in more affluent communities or newer urban communities, where they are trying to find an aesthetic that looks awkward and looks friendly,” Andrews said.
Andrews noticed that wires ran through the streets of his middle-class town of Highland Park, New Jersey, in contrast to the affluent city of Princeton, which marred the amenities in its downtown area.
Andrews noted that dense downtown areas in general are particularly likely to have underground transport because there is no space for above-ground utilities. He explained that “high-rise buildings and wires are not compatible with each other.”
Some cities, such as Riverside, California, opposed overground power lines because of fears It will destroy the opinions of the residents and reduce the value of the property.
Studies show that having a home near the power line can be undervalued Compared to similar homes far from amenities. Valuation magazine examined sales on the West Coast and found that homes near transit lines in Portland, Oregon, Sold for about $5000 less, While the price gap in Seattle was around $12,500.
Although above-ground amenities can affect home prices, Andrews said, you should also consider the utilities a neighborhood provides, among other characteristics.
Some areas, such as Santa Fe, New Mexico, have flooded their facilities to preserve the character of the area, said Blank of New Mexico State University.
“In the case of Santa Fe, you’re talking about a very historic city,” Blanc said. “They want to protect the original architecture. I can’t build a building in Santa Fe without complying with very specific architectural requirements—even the grocery stores.”
Andrews said that while both devices have advantages and disadvantages, each plays an important role in saving energy.
“I think it would be unrealistic to imagine that we would need to dig a tunnel all the way through California to Arizona to replace the electric transmission towers running through it,” he noted.
However, some regions are committed to changing their existing infrastructure. PG&E launches an underground project that will cost it An estimated $25 billion.
Stokes said Governor Gavin Newsom has a budget in California that includes climate adaptation funding, which necessitates putting utility lines underground. (Though she noted that “to really reduce the risk of wildfires, what we need to do is stop burning fossil fuels and get through the climate crisis.”)
And the in Florida, Some utility companies have made proposals to build underground power lines to protect them from storm surges.
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