Special Report: Are Underground Power Lines Worth the Cost?

We all remember the scenes from Christmas 2012. It was a tangled mess of trees and powers lines brought down by ice and heavy snow. Some went hours without power while others endured weeks of inconvenience.

The energy that powers our lives flows into our lives almost unnoticed most of the time, but because of equipment failure, severe weather or winter storms, that flow stops and suddenly almost everything that was once easy is now difficult or impossible.

It all starts at a power plant where electricity is generated through the use of nuclear energy, water flow, oil, gas or coal. Electricity is then carried by large transmission lines and towers to local substations where it branches out along distribution lines to homes and businesses.

The most common question after a widespread power interruption is, “Why not bury all power lines? “

That suggestion, however, doesn’t come without a substantial cost.

“The cost of burying transmission and distribution line ranges from $2 million to $12 million per mile to do that,” said Sally Graham with Entergy Arkansas.

Based on information obtained by Entergy Arkansas, the per customer surcharge for undertaking the complete or substantial undergrounding of electrical lines would be around $3,500 per year, and that doesn’t even guarantee there wouldn’t be future outages. Put another way, it would cost each and every one of us an extra $300 a month.

“What for customers is really good to understand is that with undergrounding your lines your outages may occur less often but an outage from an underground line actually takes more time to fix,” Graham said.

Entergy Arkansas, along with Arkansas Electricity Cooperatives, regularly conduct vegetation management, or trimming, along their lines to lessen the chance of damage from trees and branches. Homeowners can help by keeping trees near their overhead electric supply trimmed.

But power outages are going to occasionally happen. Your best bet is to be prepared with batteries, flashlights and a portable radio or TV to stay informed.

Another option is a portable generator that can provide power during an emergency. They’re affordable and can be wired directly to your home by an electrician to provide limited power. You can also run extension cords from your generator outside to run appliances inside your home.

The next storm that knocks out power will likely renew the debate of above ground versus below ground power. A small investment on our part in preparing for that next blackout would be far, far less expensive than the cost of completely undergounding the power grid.

Right now, some Arkansans are still without power from our latest winter storm, but in a normal year, for the most part, widespread power outages are the exception rather than the rule.

Remember, you can do some basic preparations in case the lights go out, but most importantly, have patience. Even if you don’t see them, repair crews are hard at work.

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