Storm warning: Time to bury all power lines
by Robert Meredith
February 13, 2014 07:30 PM | 1695 views | 2 2 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As this was written on Thursday, 145,000 homes and businesses in Georgia were without power and 720,000 outages were spread over 15 states. Repair crews were rushing in from neighboring states to repair the damage.

It has happened before and it will happen again. Winter blackouts, some lasting 10 days or more, have been a fact of life for as long as I can remember; pipes freezing, stores and businesses closed and people dying because they set their homes on fire trying to keep warm.

This is not an act of God; it is the result of a rational business decision. Someone in management has crunched the numbers and made the decision that is more cost effective to send in crews to repair the power lines than it is to correct the problem. You the customer do not fit into this calculation. Your inconvenience does not matter. In the quest for corporate profit; the bottom line is the bottom line.

The fact is that we live in a 21st century world supported by a 20th century infrastructure. Look up. Look around you at this unsightly tangled mess.

In 1994 I painted a series of 30 paintings of Kennesaw Mountain from 30 different locations around the county. There was only one location where I could see the mountain unobstructed by power lines.

It is worse today. Our high-tech world of high speed computers, wireless communication and online banking is supported by a tangle of wires looping along every road and drooping across every street. All it takes to shut off your power is for one tree to fall across a wire or for someone’s kid to wrap his family sedan around a utility pole.

Weather related blackouts could be eliminated forever by simply burying power lines. Water lines are buried. Gas lines are buried. Sewer lines are buried and in upscale subdivisions power lines are buried. There is no logical reason why most power lines should not be buried.

We the people, the customer, have no say in the matter. The utilities have lobbyists to ensure things remain the same and the lobbyists have the ears of our legislators. The Public Service Commission seems to be only interested in overseeing utility rates. All it would take is a regulation mandating that any repair, addition or upgrade of the existing system require that line be buried.

In other words, if the line to your house is knocked down by a storm or changed for any reason that line would have to be buried. That would result in the most vulnerable parts of the grid being fixed first and the entire grid being gradually updated over a period of years.

Our society is now too dependent on consistent electrical power to be at the mercy of the next storm or the next earnings report. Everything runs on electricity and when electricity fails the world stops. No corporation is going to work against what it considers its own best interests.

This is a problem that will require government regulation and oversight. There are those who believe government has no business regulating business. Try sitting for a week in a cold dark house with your food rotting in the freezer; with no TV, cell service or computer; no restaurants, service stations, banks or grocery stores just because a few trees fell across some power lines, like I did during Hurricane Sandy and as many of you did this week, then tell me how you feel.

This is a liability that threatens us all and it can and must be corrected. It has happened before, it will happen again and with climate change it will only get worse. Bury the lines.

Robert Meredith of Cobb County is an artist.
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Lost In Smynings
February 14, 2014
I'd like power lines buried, also. They look bad, they fall down in bad weather, and yes, they clutter views of lovely spots such as Kennesaw Mountain.

But will I trade buried cables for what would happen to my electricity rates? Not a chance, unfortunately.

Mr Meredith calls for regulation in this instance. I can't tell from this column if Mr Meredith knows that public utilities in general and specifically electricity rates have been and will remain governed by a long-standing regulatory process. Electric rates are set via rate cases which public utilities must regularly file with the Ga Public Service Commission. If the utilities felt it appropriate and necessary to bury power lines in order to deliver good service, or if the Commission felt it necessary and compelled the utilities to do so, the cost to do so would find its way into customer rates. Through this process, the Commission seeks to set rates which are 1) are reasonable for ratepayers, 2) sufficient to ensure that service is provided reliably and safely, 3) sufficient to cover utility operating costs, and 4) sufficient to provide a return on the private capital employed to support the future growth of the utility. Yes, as ugly as profitable utilities may sound, the wise regulator will agree that the subjects of their regulation must be financially sound, whether their lines are buried or not.

I'd really like buried lines. They'd look great, and we wouldn't have these annoying 48-hour periods every few years where we need to leave our freezers shut, read by candlelight, talk to our families and wear an extra sweater or two. But what I'd like more are rates which are not too high for a low-income family to have to choose between food and heat. I'd like higher rates to pay for something like smart metering such that ratepayers can time their power consumption according to when power is cheapest. I'd like to leave room to accommodate higher prices for power itself, which is coming once the economy gets off of its knees and the price of natural gas (which determines electricity prices)gets back to normal levels.

Yep, I want buried power lines. I'd also like to have McCann back behind home plate. But the ugly truth is that neither are affordable.
February 14, 2014
So, your power line gets broken by a tree in a storm. The utility comes out and says:

Sorry sir I cannot repair your line today, government regulations state you must wait until we can get your line buried. It will take about 2 weeks before you will have power again. Good day.

Oops, good idea gone bad...
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