Thursday, July 29, 2010

DC area power companies debate underground utilities

After the extreme power outages in suburban Maryland and some of Washington DC after Sunday’s surprise thunderstorms with up to 90 mph straight line “outflow boundary” winds, public debate has surfaced on the desirability of putting all utilities underground, as in downtown areas.

Cities like Washington and Atlanta, in heavily forested areas, might benefit. When I lived in Dallas and Minneapolis, power outages, even in suburban areas, were infrequent and shortlived, except after very extreme events like tornadoes.

David Sherfiniski has a story on p 5 of the Washington Examiner today on the topic, here. The article title is "Underground power lines not cure-all for avoiding storms".

Surprisingly, underground lines have some disadvantages. They may suffer flood, animal damage, or more rapid insulation failure, and might fail in extreme heat (as happened in NE Washington earlier in July). Repairs take longer and outages affect more people.

I lived in downtown Minneapolis from 1997-2003 in the Churchill Apartments, and remember only one outage, in January 2003. Many violent thunderstorms and blizzards had no effect at all, with all utilities underground.

Washington DC experienced a major outage in August 2001, one month before 9/11, with a manhole fire in the Dupont Circle area.

New York City has experienced some major power failures, in 1965 and a 24 hour one in 1977 when I lived there, as well as 2003.

See my "BillBoushka" blog entry Feb. 5, 2010 for more discussion of power outages.

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