When powerful winds roll through our area and we experience outages, we often are asked why we don’t have more of our power lines buried underground.
While about half of the cooperative’s lines are underground, overhead lines are still more affordable to construct, repair and maintain. Faults on the line can be visually inspected, and repairs are usually made quickly. Those factors come into play prominently when bad storms and hurricanes strike and our crews need to quickly find and fix problems. That’s not the case with underground lines.
A majority of the underground lines are in newer residential subdivisions, where developers and homeowners prefer underground lines for aesthetic reasons. In fact, aesthetics is the main reason those lines are buried in new construction projects, and they do fail less frequently than overhead lines, but underground lines are not without problems.
While the cooperative uses the most reliable underground technologies and materials available, such as insulated cable and protective conduit, problems with existing underground cables can still take longer to find and fix. Additionally, the cost of installing underground cable is much higher than building overhead lines and they are much more expensive if they need to be replaced. Underground cable costs roughly 3 times more per mile than overhead distribution lines.
While it may make sense to go underground with power lines in new developments, replacing existing overhead lines in developed areas is not usually a financially feasible option. It’s costly to install lines in a way that minimizes disruption to residents and businesses.
Replacement means disturbing existing landscaping and boring under existing driveways. The work, if not done properly, can cause accidental damage to other utility lines such as cable, phone or water. Conversely, underground power lines can be accidentally damaged by crews working on other underground utilities or building projects.
Safety Tip: Please remember to call 811 to have underground utilities located before you dig.