Can Burying Power Lines Prevent California’s Next Big Wildfire?
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Burying power lines isn’t a new idea. The majority of electrical distribution lines, as well as the larger, higher voltage transmission lines that carry electrons over longer distances, remain overhead, said Sadrul Ula, an energy infrastructure researcher at the University of California, Riverside. But utilities have long buried lines in city centers, as well as parks and recreation areas like golf courses, largely for aesthetic reasons. Even though it can cost as much as ten times more than installing power lines overhead, utilities are now burying an increasing number of new lines. That includes power lines serving nearly all new residential and commercial developments in the U.S. They do it to meet customer preferences, help keep the lights on, reduce maintenance needs, and to protect against the growing threat of extreme weather.
Today, McNamara says, whenever a storm knocks out power lines and triggers outages, it kicks off a debate about whether the lines should be rebuilt underground. Similarly, as fire season worsens across the West and power lines are implicated in a growing number of destructive blazes, utilities are feeling pressure to move more of their equipment below ground.
Once buried, the risk of power lines starting fires is “very minimal,” Ula says. From that perspective, placing lines underground is a highly effective wildfire mitigation strategy. But the high cost means that companies rarely treat it as a silver bullet, instead using line burial in combination with cheaper retrofitting strategies, routine equipment maintenance, and vegetation clearing.
After its equipment sparked a series of deadly blazes in 2007, San Diego Gas and Electric launched a $3 billion effort to reduce wildfire risk that included “strategically undergrounding ” high-risk lines, flameproofing existing infrastructure by coating it in fire-resistant materials, and deploying sensors that shut off power to broken lines before they hit the ground. Portland General Electric and Puget Sound Energy, the largest utilities in Oregon and Washington state, respectively, are employing a similar set of strategies to help prevent their equipment starting fires, their spokespeople told Grist.
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August 27, 2021 at 12:59 PM #442501NV WinoModerator
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My power is out again. I’m currently sitting in the parking lot of my local market to see when it might come on again.
August 27, 2021 at 4:33 PM #442537HassleCatParticipant
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Buried power lines require very little maintenance, so there is some pay back for the initial cost. Maybe we need the big bad evil government to butt in and provide funding, impose requirements, etc. I know it’s fascist socialism, but burning down forests and small town is becoming annoying.
August 27, 2021 at 4:56 PM #442541youroutParticipant
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Maybe…..but will it cause mutant earth worms like some X-files episode?
August 27, 2021 at 7:30 PM #442572D503Participant
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Not all of them, but may be a good step.
"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." - Asimov; "If you push something hard enough, it will fall over." - Fud's First Law of Opposition
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