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Isn’t it time for the grid to go underground?

By: Jesse Berst |

Paul Marks, chief technology correspondent with New Scientist, is joining a growing chorus of East Coasters crying for the distribution grid to be buried underground to forestall outages from giant storms like Hurricane Sandy.

My view

I understand the problems and concerns about undergrounding… yet I believe that, as an industry, we overestimate the cost of burial. And that’s because we underestimate the potential for cooperation and collaboration with other utilities to do joint undergrounding.

I live in a city served by an IOU that loudly and proudly declaims that it is absolutely, positively impossible to join with telecommunications and cable TV providers. Yet, only a few hundred miles away in the same state, Avista Utilities has been doing exactly that kind of collaboration for at least 15 years. (It also shares other expenses, such as annual updates of the aerial photography that is fed into its GIS system).

With a little coordination, local utilities could come up with a plan to gradually underground all utilities by “piggybacking” on work that was going to be done anyway and then gradually expanding to other areas. Pretending otherwise and presenting overly large estimates of undergrounding costs does our industry a disservice, I believe.

Their view

  • Hurricane Sandy cuts power for millions. Why aren’t utility lines underground?
  • Underground lines not a ‘silver bullet’ against outages
  • Long power outages during storms like Hurricane Sandy could be prevented
  • Fixing NYC’s underground power grid is no easy task