Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Down in the Hole

Our recent weather event has once again raised cries for burying all power lines. Even here at To2C, readers have chimed in on the issue.

It has also again highlighted the longstanding Columbia/Ellicott City divide. In some recent casual conversations I've detected a hint of  an infrastructure superiority complex among some Columbians. Columbia, of course, was a pioneer in the burying of power lines forty five years ago. As a result, Columbia in general, suffered fewer power outages than the rest of HoCo, percentage wise anyway.

That being said, there were still power outages in Columbia. The infrastructure is only as strong as its weakest point which occurs in and all around Columbia. This is also true in Ellicott City. In the newer developments, including my own neighborhood, all of the power lines are buried. The problem is that they are connected to the old parts where the wires are hung on poles, the aforementioned weak link. In Ellicott City the old parts occupy a larger geographical area than the new parts.

 Whether or not to just go ahead and bury everything everywhere has been battered around for some time now. According to this story by Mike DeBonis in The Washington Post, “In 2005, the Maryland Public Service Commission studied whether creating a statewide system of underground lines would be wise. The group concluded that building such a system would be too expensive, …”

There also seems to be a question as to whether it is even worth it.

“A 2009 report from the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association for public utilities, said data show that underground systems have “only a slightly better reliability performance” than above-ground systems.”

Then again, if you just measured the performance of underground power lines in times of storms like last Fridays, putting the power in the hole wins hands down.

“Pepco said in a 2008 report that outages involving overhead wires took 2.8 hours to repair, while the average outage involving underground equipment took 4.4 hours. But during and after storm events, the calculation changed: Above-ground equipment took an average of 8.2 hours to repair, “while there were no [underground] storm related failures for comparison.”

And then there’s that…
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