The Bulletin

To avoid outages, you can't just bury power lines

Posting in Energy

Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards -- power outages occur in these situations because trees, ice and other objects interfere with the power lines in the air, strung along poles and susceptible to damage.

So why don't we just bury them in the ground? Wouldn't that lead to fewer outages?

It's not that easy, Sarah Fecht writes over at Popular Mechanics. The reason that 80 percent of power lines in the United States hang openly in the air is because of cost.

She crunches the numbers so you don't have to:

For example, in a new suburban neighborhood, installing ordinary overhead power lines costs about $194,000 per mile on average. Installing underground power lines would cost $571,000 per mile. And to retrofit an older suburban neighborhood with underground lines, the costs climb up to an average of $724,000 per mile.

And those aren't even the high-voltage variety, which cost millions per mile.

It gets worse: even if the lines are buried underground, parts of the grid infrastructure must remain aboveground, leaving the system still susceptible to the elements. (It's precisely why lower Manhattan is without electricity right now -- a substation explosion did the area in.) And those underground lines remain at risk of flooding or misguided digs anyway.

— By on October 31, 2012, 3:55 AM PST

Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure