Power lines. For as long as anyone can remember, they have been a common sight along busy freeways, rural roads and desert highways. But are they the most economical form of electrical transmission? I think that’s debatable.
I was fortunate to live in many states when I was growing up – California, Tennessee, Arkansas & Florida just to name a few – and they all had one thing in common: power outages. Whether man-made, such as a car slamming into a power pole, or an act of mother nature (earthquake, tornado, hurricane, etc), the ability of these sometimes primitive features of American life have been plagued by factors that can render them useless and inadequate for days – sometimes even months.
Every time I watch the news and hear about another deadly and/or destructive tornado, I would ask myself: “why don’t the power companies just bury the power lines underground, just like the gas companies do with gas lines, and be done with it? What’s the problem?”
Of course, once I begin asking myself a random question, I immediately have to start looking for answers using the unlimited resource that is the world-wide interweb. I posed the question to Google, and (of course) it directed me to Wikipedia. As I began to scroll through the history of electrical power transmission, I stumbled across this blurb that elaborated on the subject of underground lines.
Electric power can also be transmitted by underground power cables instead of overhead power lines. Underground cables take up less right-of-way than overhead lines, have lower visibility, and are less affected by bad weather. However, costs of insulated cable and excavation are much higher than overhead construction. Faults in buried transmission lines take longer to locate and repair. Underground lines are strictly limited by their thermal capacity, which permits less overload or re-rating than overhead lines. Long underground cables have significant capacitance, which may reduce their ability to provide useful power to loads.
A typical, smart person may accept that as a relevant explanation for why you still see power lines everywhere you go. Fortunately for you, I am neither typical nor smart. So I continued to challenge the explanations.
The cost of insulated cables is about the only argument I tend to agree is plausible. I can understand how it may be necessary to add layers of insulation to adequately protect the electricity and anyone who may come in contact with it. But that is where my agreement ends.
The cost of excavation is much higher than overhead construction? It can’t be THAT expensive. Whether overhead or in the ground, you still have to dig up quite a bit of dirt to bury a pole or an insulated cable. Furthermore, having to pay electric company employees to re-install power lines over and over – not to mention the cost of the large wood or metal poles and the heavy equipment needed to install them – has to be just as expensive to do.
And then they claim that finding faults in buried lines takes longer to locate than through overhead means? Come on! Seriously? The gas companies have miles and miles of gas pipelines buried under our feet, and when they have a leak they generally pinpoint the cause fairly quickly – granted if a house explodes, it may help them locate the source much faster 🙂
This all seems to be a lame attempt at making people believe that this is one resource that cannot be tamed, and it should just be accepted as a way of life. But I don’t buy it.
Do I have a solution for this problem? No. But, I can’t be expected to do EVERYTHING around here. Get off your ass and figure it out yourself 🙂 And when you do, be sure to let them know I helped, in my own little way.