Did you know that there are at least 180 million telephone and television lines stringing throughout the streets and highways of the United States? Take note, that this does not include the above-ground electric cables and other utility wires.
Imagine if all the lines we see along the road are tunneled safely underground. It could lead to more scenic views and lesser risks of falling during calamities. But like many things in life and business, underground power lines have both pros and cons. In this article, let’s take a deep dive into the benefits of moving utilities underground.
Advantages of Underground Utilities
Burying utilities underground can greatly improve the aesthetic of an area, as it eliminates the need for unsightly power lines and poles. This can be particularly beneficial for historic or tourist areas, as it can help to preserve the character of the area.
Underground utilities are generally considered to be safer than overhead utilities, as they are less likely to be damaged by high winds, fallen trees, or other natural hazards. This can also reduce the risk of downed power lines, power outages and other disruptions caused by storms. Moreover, it helps prevent wildfires and other fire hazards caused when trees fall into them during calamities.
Reduced Maintenance Costs
Underground utilities require less maintenance than overhead utilities, as they are not exposed to the elements. This can help to reduce the costs associated with maintaining and repairing utilities over time.
The maintenance cost of utility wires above ground can be expensive. Apparently, they are exposed to the elements, which can cause damage to the equipment and structures over time. This can include damage from high winds, fallen trees, and other natural hazards, which can increase the costs associated with maintaining and repairing the utilities.
They are also difficult to access for maintenance and repair work, which can increase the cost of labor and equipment. This can also increase the risk of injury to workers, which can result in additional costs. Since the space on poles is limited, it’s very difficult to upgrade or expand the system to meet the growing demands of consumers. This can result in additional costs associated with building new poles and towers or upgrading existing ones.
Burying utilities underground can help to increase the reliability of the power supply, as it reduces the risk of damage from natural hazards or other disruptions. This can be especially beneficial for critical infrastructure such as hospitals and emergency services.
Better Land Use
Shifting utilities below ground enable the above-ground land to be used for other purposes, such as parks, gardens, and buildings. This can help to increase property values and improve the overall quality of life in an area.
Underground utilities can handle more capacity than overhead utilities, as they are not limited by the available space on poles and towers. This can help to support future growth and development in an area.
In summary, moving municipal utilities underground has the potential to improve the aesthetic of an area, increase safety, reduce maintenance costs, increase reliability, better land use, increase capacity, and reduced the risk of fires.
Challenges To Moving Them Underground
As part of an effort to make communities more scenic and beautiful, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) aims to have 10, 000 miles of lines buried underground starting from the highest fire-threat districts to the highest fire areas of California. With their current pace, they reckon to have at least 50% of the project completed by 2040. However, moving utilities underground also comes with challenges such as the following.
- Cost: Burying utility lines underground can be much more expensive than keeping them overhead, particularly if the infrastructure is already in place.
- Excavation: Digging trenches and laying underground conduit is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process.
- Right-of-way: Obtaining the necessary rights-of-way to bury lines can be difficult and time-consuming.
- Maintenance: Maintaining and repairing underground lines can be more difficult and costly than overhead lines, as it requires excavation and may require specialized equipment.
- Weather Resilience: Underground lines are not immune to damage from extreme weather events such as flooding or heavy snow.
- Interference: Underground power lines can interfere with other underground infrastructure such as gas, water, and sewage lines.
- Safety: Underground power lines can pose an electrocution hazard if not properly marked and protected.
How To Gain Support of Your Municipality To Move Utilities Under Ground
Gaining the support of your municipality to move utilities underground can be challenging. Other than the it is expensive, and there are certain legal and government requirements that need to be met for success. Moreover, it is not easy to introduce a life-changing change, especially in a conservative municipality. So how do you gain the support of your municipality to move utilities underground?
Educating the community
Share information about the benefits of underground utilities, such as improved aesthetics, increased property values, reduced risk of power outages caused by storms, and reduced pollution. We also need to educate our local officials and regulators. The power companies that provide electricity in our communities have a vested interest in maintaining their monopoly on electricity delivery — which means that they are unlikely to support initiatives that would make it easier for competitors to enter the market. We need to convince these companies that moving utility wires underground makes sense for everyone involved.
Demonstrating the cost-effectiveness
Provide data and analysis that shows how the costs of underground utilities will be offset by the long-term benefits. If you think about it, one of the factors that affect the increase in utility bills is maintenance cost. If transferring utility wires underground will reduce this maintenance cost, it will also reflect on the cost of utility bills that consumers have to pay monthly.
Building a coalition
Work with community leaders, business owners, and other stakeholders to build a coalition that supports the move to underground utilities. The idea of moving utility wires underground is not new. It’s been around for decades, but it has yet to be widely adopted. When everyone has the same ideals for the community, bringing change would be a lot easier.
Partnering with local organizations
Partner with utility companies, local government, and other non-local governments. They are the ones who have the power and resources to make a chance. It is worth noting that the requirements for every state can be different. In some states, it would require certain amendments to the law to implement the changes.