Buried Power Lines

With all the other destruction from H. Florence constantly in the news why must the citizens also lose power? While traveling round Europe many years ago I was struck by the fact that there seemed to be very few poles and power lines visible above ground. I was told that they were almost always buried. Is this true? The aesthetic difference is stunning.

Of course the initial cost of burying is higher than to put it all up on poles but isn’t the cost of lost revenue, constantly replacing poles, lines, trimming trees and paying for lawsuits over fires started by downed lines ultimately higher? Why can’t we do this? Just seems as if it would be well worth the extra initial cost.

since the 60s most neighborhoods in the US have buried power lines. The main lines that connect neighborhoods and connect to high voltage lines are still on poles .

We do this thread every time there’s a hurricane.

Yes, buried power lines survive storms better. However, repairing buried lines is much more difficult and therefore power takes much longer to restore. Europe, which does not get tornadoes and hurricanes as the U.S. does, is not a good model for us.

The extra initial cost is manageable for new residential lines. What is not affordable is the cost to bury all the lines that are now above ground. The estimated costs for that are in the trillions. The short-term costs of downed lines doesn’t come within 1/100 of that. Maybe not 1/1000.

You should go back and search the old threads for longer, more nuanced answers but they all boil down to that one truth.

Here’s a 10-year old article that quotes our local electric company as saying it would cost $1 million/mileto put its electric lines underground. That seemed to dampen the push to bury the lines.

Huh? It’s rather that suburban-type subdivisions built since the 60s have buried lines–and the reason has less to do with storms than with aesthetics–these homeowners find power lines unattractive.

Here is a decent CNN article discussing it. One case study they mentioned:

It costs a lot more money to bury them. If you’re willing to pay, call up your local utility, I’m sure they’d take your money to bury all those unsightly power lines. I hope you have a lot of cash.

In urban areas, we’re looking at up to $2 million per mile, versus ~$250,000 per mile for overhead lines. To bury just Washington D.C.’s power lines, it would cost about $6 billion.


In the city I grew up in, most of the power lines are buried, but the rest of the system apparently was pretty weak because we lost power constantly (and friends I have who still live there lose power nearly every thunderstorm).

I live in the next county over now, and we have traditional above-ground power lines on poles. Been here 5 years, and the power has blinked maybe twice.

Just wanted to point out underground power lines with transformers on the ground don’t do particularly well when it comes to flooding. Overhead lines are devastated by trees falling but most the major components survive, they just need to clear trees and string new wires. Overhead services are minimally impacted by flooding, they may need to repair the transformers primary fault protection in cases where the homes they supply ground out. Transformers on the ground that get flooded are scrap metal, if the majority of a town floods and it was all underground service people will be without power for extended periods because the PoCo won’t be able to get hundreds of new transformers on short notice.

For regular storms and winter weather underground is superior, we just don’t want to make that investment. For large scale flooding, you’d be better off with the overhead lines.

You don’t see water, sewage, and gas lines dangling from trees. And they provide their services cheaper than electricity. I realize they were buried when the houses were built; I just don’t see why the electricity wasn’t.

In Paris, the city has utility tunnels everywhere. They are large enough to walk through I believe and carry water, sewage, electricity, telephone, and now internet cables. Any necessary repairs or replacement require no digging and no pole climbing.

My little town didn’t start burying the lines until less than five years ago and they are doing it in stages because the cost is so much. They finally buried the one to my house but it still isn’t hooked up. The line is just hanging by the meter on the side of my house.

The buried lines in my subdivision are >30 yrs old. They are needing to be replaced. That effort is taking many months and causes a fair bit of disruption to each yard that gets dug up. I like that they are buried, but it certainly isn’t cost effective. I am not sure why Europe seemed to go that route. Sounds expensive and difficult to maintain. But if you are willing to pay the costs, it does look nicer.

A friend of mine had to research exactly this question to advise very senior people on the issue. His conclusion was exactly what people here said: It costs a lot more than overhead lines and it doesn’t make the power grid more dependable overall. Buried power lines cause fewer disruptions but those disruptions tend to be a lot longer and more expensive to deal with because you have to do a lot of digging to find and fix the problem. On balance, you spend a lot more money for no particular benefit.

If the U.S. utility companies are quoting costs of $1 million to $2 million a mile to put electric lines underground, I imagine that that number would be dramatically higher to add utility tunnels. (For that matter, I wonder how many sewer and water systems in U.S. suburbs have widespread utility / access tunnels, as well.)

Why is no one addressing the real problem, which is how to send the hurricanes and tornadoes to Europe?

Both aboveground and underground lines have problems.

Most of the underground ones have been cited here:

  • initial cost of burying lines is higher.
  • underground wire is more expensive (must be insulated; overhead wire isn’t).
  • higher power losses in underground wire (constant larger expense, every year they are used).
  • shorter lifetime for underground lines (only 30-50 years).
  • more land required for underground (transformers on pads vs. overhead poles).
  • more expensive, slower to repair/replace (must locate problem, then dig to get to it).
  • statistically, both are about equally likely to be damaged accidentally (people dig into one as often as trees fall on one).

So overall, underground lines cost a utility more, and company executives don’t want to spend that money unless they are required to. So it only happens in new construction, when the local authorities demand it.

First, the tunnels were already there & in use when Paris was electrified. It is much hasrder & more expensive to do it afterwards.

Also, this is cost effective only in very densely populated areas, like Paris. Most of the US is not like that. (Heck, even running overhead wires to many rural areas wasn’t done until FDR’s Rural Electrification Act subsidized it.)

Finally, in the USA, it is restricted by law.
Back in the 1990’s, when cell phone networks were growing, the cell phone companies sneaked a provision into a Federal law prohibiting local governments from requiring the use of such tunnels, or requiring rent payments for using them. That effectively killed the development of any new municipal utility tunnels in the USA.

Weren’t the utility tunnels in lower Manhattan flooded by Hurricane Sandy?

Not enough people using their fans?? Maybe put windmill sized ones atop the Appalachians?

Another thing to consider: with overhead lines, it is much easier to prognosticate failures. For a long time, utilities companies have used infrared cameras to look for “hot spots” on the overhead lines, and fix the problem before it becomes catastrophic. I don’t believe this can be done with underground lines.