Monday, December 10, 2007

Way Past Time to Ban Overhead Lines

If you're missing your favorite Watching poster tonight, blame the electric company.

Those lazy cheapskates refuse to bury power lines where wind, ice and fire can't get to them, then act all surprised when your basic annual weather event knocks out power to tens of thousands of people for a week, maybe two.

Like the storm that has already ripped power away from 50,000 people in three states since yesterday. The victims include several Watching Those We Chose contributors.

In February 2003, an ice storm left me and thousands of others in Central Kentucky without electricity for two solid weeks - while the temperatures stayed below freezing all day and dropped into single digits at night.

Line crews worked heroically in horrific conditions, but the ice was so heavy on the trees that as soon as the workers got one line back up, more limbs would fall, taking the line down again.

The problem was obvious to everyone: overhead lines outside where the weather can get to them are an extremely bad idea.

Customers of Kentucky Utilities and the local rural electric cooperatives screamed bloody murder until even the Public Service Commission woke from its long nap and started to take a look.

Terrified the PSC might start actually demanding the utilities provide real, you know, service, KU and the others quickly babbled promises to bury all their power lines - as soon as the weather permitted.

That was four years and 10 months ago. Care to guess how many miles of power lines have been buried since? How many feet? You got it - zero.

Yes, burying lines costs 10 to 15 times as much as stringing overhead wire. But the 2003 storm cost KU $22.5 million - how much underground line would that have paid for? Yes, underground lines are vulnerable to flooding, idiots with backhoes, etc., but those events are far less common and affect far fewer people than the annual hurricanes, ice storms and fires that strand tens of thousands at a time without power.

We, the customers, pay for it. Not just in higher power costs the companies pass on to us, but in higher local and state taxes because of the huge price governments pay for such power failures in the form of emergency services to stranded citizens.

And yes, it's a power failure - not an "outage." When you flip the switch and the light does not come on, the power has failed. It has not been "outed," like a republican politician.

Overhead lines are vulnerable, dangerous, expensive and stupid - not to mention butt-ugly.

Bury them all. Bury them all now.

Cross-posted at BlueGrassRoots.