- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2011


Electrical cables, as we’ve painfully learned once again in the wake of Hurricane Irene, are terribly prone to damage from wind, ice and downed trees. Tens of thousands of Washington-area homes, mine included, wound up without power for days just recently. So why not bury the cables?

They do so in much of Europe. Especially in Germany and the Netherlands, it’s a rare sight to see above-ground electrical cables. The Europeans apparently see burying them as a cost-effective alternative to constantly worrying about repairing storm damage, with all the disruption to the daily life of ratepayers that it entails. Buried cables aren’t an eyesore, give off almost no electromagnetic radiation, which is suspected of subtle but harmful health effects, and pose virtually no hazard from downed lines or obstacles to aircraft.

Yet it seems that the U.S. electric power industry is opposed to “undergrounding,” as it’s called. Statements by the Edison Electric Institute, an industry umbrella group, and Entergy Corp., for example, are strongly opposed to burying cables, mainly citing the costs involved, which they say are up to 10 times more than the cost of aerial cables.

But it seems that their position may be based on old technology, not to mention simple corporate inertia. An organization of European energy professionals has an entirely different take on the matter. The group, Leonardo Energy, says that with the use of an insulation called cross-linked polyethylene, burial of cable is far less expensive than it used to be, and there is less maintenance, too.

Directional drilling and “trenchless” burial techniques have greatly reduced installation times. Power losses during transmission, they say, happen 30 percent less frequently with buried cable than for overhead lines. And underground cables require far less land, freeing up much-needed space for homes or farmland.

For the sake of all the people they allegedly serve, Baltimore Gas and Electric and Pepco should be urged to take a second look at “undergrounding.”



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