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Undergrounding Utility Lines


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Underground utilities aren't a magic bullet. My husband works for a tv station and he says there are still neighborhoods with underground utilites without power. When I lived in Katy, with underground utilities, my power and cable when out regulary for long periods of time, even without a storm.

More than likely the power into your subdivision comes from above ground lines. As the saying goes, we are only as strong as our weakest link. If your supply lines had also been underground, the chances of you losing power would be greatly diminished.

If the ditch digging and electrical contractors were smart (and I'm sure they are), they would start lobbying NOW for buried lines.

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I am in Southern Trails, a new MPC just south of Shadow Creek Ranch. We do have underground utilities. We only lost power for 21 hours during Ike.

What we have here in SCR are underground connections to the houses. However, there are above ground distribution lines running along the edge of several sections (including the pole in my yard) as well as the lines on Kingsley, 2234, and yes, 518 just next to Southern Trails.

I guess the accurate description of this would be "hybrid". We still lose power -- not because of "line-drops" failing, but rather because of the system that feeds the lines that come to the house.

You guys are also a little closer to those high power lines that run catty-corner across the southern side of SCR. That's probably why you got power back faster. We were down for 4 days here on the north side of SCR.

Edited by bsienk
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What we have here in SCR are underground connections to the houses. However, there are above ground distribution lines running along the edge of several sections (including the pole in my yard) as well as the lines on Kingsley, 2234, and yes, 518 just next to Southern Trails.

I guess the accurate description of this would be "hybrid". We still lose power -- not because of "line-drops" failing, but rather because of the system that feeds the lines that come to the house.

You guys are also a little closer to those high power lines that run catty-corner across the southern side of SCR. That's probably why you got power back faster. We were down for 4 days here on the north side of SCR.

Good point. Actually, Southern Trails is also the "hybrid"-type you describe. There is a line of poles running south along the east edge of our subdivision.

I guess there was only minor damage to the above-ground entry points to our subdivision, that's why we had power restored so fast.

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From a comment posted on my blog:

slinkydog has left a new comment on your post "Ike in context":

From http://triangle.bizjournals.com/triangle/s.../23/story8.html

"While underground lines are not subject to the same wind and ice storm risks as above-ground lines, underground lines could be damaged by floods.

'They are not by any stretch impervious to the elements,' Legge says. 'There's just different elements.'

Outages for underground lines also last longer than outages for above-ground lines. It takes longer to find and repair underground infrastructure, Legge explains.

Following the 2002 ice storm that blanketed most of North Carolina and its power lines, the utilities commission's Public Staff researched the prospect of burying distribution lines. The Public Staff estimated at the time that converting all distribution lines in the state would cost $41 billion and would take 25 years to complete. The impact to customer bills would be a 125 percent increase.

The Edison Electric Institute in 2006 released a study on burying power lines that concluded that the cost of converting overhead lines to underground would be roughly $1 million per mile - nearly 10 times the cost of an overhead power line. Legge says those costs have likely increased."

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And according to CEO David McClanahan, the $500 Million repair bill "will translate to between $1 and $2 per month for the average customer." Link to Source

Not to mention that Entergy passed more than $380 Million onto their customers after Rita.

So wait a minute...

If I use your source Tory, and it costs $1 Million per mile to bury the lines, then in the past three years alone, we have essentially paid the equivalent of 880 miles of underground power lines and who knows when the next storm will undue the repairs we just made. In fact, I would be willing to bet that much of the repairs that Entergy made in 2005 had to be redone in 2008.

880 miles in three years.... thats a lot of miles... I wonder what raising our bills $5/month would do? Or even $10...

Oh yea, that would allow us to bury all the lines in Houston without the economic distress you mention above.

Edited by Mr. Chenevert
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And according to CEO David McClanahan, the $500 Million repair bill "will translate to between $1 and $2 per month for the average customer." Link to Source

Not to mention that Entergy passed more than $380 Million onto their customers after Rita.

So wait a minute...

If I use your source Tory, and it costs $1 Million per mile to bury the lines, then in the past three years alone, we have essentially paid the equivalent of 880 miles of underground power lines and who knows when the next storm will undue the repairs we just made. In fact, I would be willing to bet that much of the repairs that Entergy made in 2005 had to be redone in 2008.

880 miles in three years.... thats a lot of miles... I wonder what raising our bills $5/month would do? Or even $10...

Oh yea, that would allow us to bury all the lines in Houston without the economic distress you mention above.

880 miles in three years for 1 a month? *I* would pay that, but can you imagine that outrage of the pace of construction? This would require a bigger amount of headaches than you guys realize as this would also require doing a bit of digging in yards and streets.

Also, when you talk about a grid system that substantially bigger than 800 miles, you're talking a very slow pace. I don't have the exact numbers of how many miles of powerlines there are in Houston, but I can place a decent bet that it's way over the 50kMile mark.

So if you're talking about $1, it would take, assuming 10,000 miles (WAY low side), about 62 years. Now you can add the equation for a higher light bill, but then we get into the territory of the costs of such construction would be a burden on people that can barely afford to pay the bill they currently have.

Economic theory is all well and fun when you're talking about it, but when you're actually paying for it, most people would balk at writing that paycheck.

now to make MY position clear, I wouldn't mind the lines being underground, but I believe it should be done as its viable. When you're dealing with some of the major construction have it part of the build, or if a developer is working a neighborhood, they can bury them underground and share the costs with the power company for the rest of that block.

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Would have been a great idea 100 years ago when they laid out the city, but now in a large majority of places, West U, Heights, Riveroak, Timbergrove, Tanglewood, and all other neighborhoods that I cant even think of, there are no easements on these peoples property, and they will not be happy to give one up.

I for one HATED more than anything the waste of a 10' easement at my old house in Pearland. YOu cant do anything in it, and workers come and go freely through your BACK yard. Personally I am happier being without power the .000000001% of the time, than having to constantly worry somebody from the utility is going to be in my back yard, cut my lock off my gate and let my dog out, as he runs from her.

You cant take a system that had above ground power and convert it to underground power, without an easement, which personally Im not willing to give on.

It hasnt been that long, and almost never happens, so its just time to grin and bear it, b/c it sucks to not have control over your OWN property b/c some utility says that you cant.

Thats my opinion.

With the current aftermath that is still crippling this city, is it time for Houston to begin undergrounding utility lines? Although costly, this would go far in preventing citywide blackouts like we've had and curing the unsightly nature of lines crisscrossing our city.
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While an easement would probably be required to get the power to your house, I would believe that most of the lines would be buried under city property, either the street, or between the street and the sidewalk.

If the line comes above ground to actually get to your house, I could care less. Thats the homeowners decision to change if they want.

Just as a sidenote, we didnt have easements in Pennsylvania. Before you did any digging for a shed or something, you would call a 1-800 number and all utility lines, gas, electric, cable, phone, etc would be marked for you with little flags... all for free.

You just didnt dig very deep where the flags where. Nobody complained and nobody lost 10 feet of their property.

Would have been a great idea 100 years ago when they laid out the city, but now in a large majority of places, West U, Heights, Riveroak, Timbergrove, Tanglewood, and all other neighborhoods that I cant even think of, there are no easements on these peoples property, and they will not be happy to give one up.

I for one HATED more than anything the waste of a 10' easement at my old house in Pearland. YOu cant do anything in it, and workers come and go freely through your BACK yard. Personally I am happier being without power the .000000001% of the time, than having to constantly worry somebody from the utility is going to be in my back yard, cut my lock off my gate and let my dog out, as he runs from her.

You cant take a system that had above ground power and convert it to underground power, without an easement, which personally Im not willing to give on.

It hasnt been that long, and almost never happens, so its just time to grin and bear it, b/c it sucks to not have control over your OWN property b/c some utility says that you cant.

Thats my opinion.

Edited by Mr. Chenevert
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I remain a bit baffled by the issue. In Europe power lines in dense urban areas are almost always buried, to a large extent because it is considered cheaper when repair costs are factored in. Are the economics that different in the rest of the world? As I mentioned above though, I don't think the economics argument holds up in rural areas. It seems that after the experience of Ike people would be screaming to have the lines better protected. Is cheapest upfront always the best alternative?

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Just as a sidenote, we didnt have easements in Pennsylvania. Before you did any digging for a shed or something, you would call a 1-800 number and all utility lines, gas, electric, cable, phone, etc would be marked for you with little flags... all for free.

So you could pour a slab for a garage or something over these lines, no problem? What happens when a repair needs to be made underneath your garage?

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I remain a bit baffled by the issue. In Europe power lines in dense urban areas are almost always buried, to a large extent because it is considered cheaper when repair costs are factored in. Are the economics that different in the rest of the world? As I mentioned above though, I don't think the economics argument holds up in rural areas. It seems that after the experience of Ike people would be screaming to have the lines better protected. Is cheapest upfront always the best alternative?

Not to mention the fact that they practically had to rebuild most of the cities after the war. Any infrastructure is easy to plan when you've been bombed to the stone age.

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Underground utilities aren't a magic bullet. My husband works for a tv station and he says there are still neighborhoods with underground utilites without power. When I lived in Katy, with underground utilities, my power and cable when out regulary for long periods of time, even without a storm.

Well, it sure looks alot better when they are not seen.

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So you could pour a slab for a garage or something over these lines, no problem? What happens when a repair needs to be made underneath your garage?

The line is pulled out of the pipe. Lines under slabs go into pipe, usually PVC, so that a damaged wire can be pulled and replaced. Generally, water does not bother the wire itself. Transformers need to be placed above flood levels though, as they will short out if submerged.

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So you could pour a slab for a garage or something over these lines, no problem? What happens when a repair needs to be made underneath your garage?

Keep in mind, and I should have repeated myself, I am talking a rural area of Pennsylvania. Most properties were between 2 and 5 acres. If you just had to have the garage slab poured over the power lines, you took the risk that it might have to get torn up for repairs. Most likely, you just moved the garage a few feet. People weren't exactly cramped for space.

HOWEVER... I cannot remember a time in the 22 years I spent there that anyone ever had to come and fix the lines. I mean seriously people, the things dont just deteriorate.

But even so, here in town you arent allowed to put a garage on the city property between the sidewalk and the street, so I dont see the issue.

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It is actually not an issue for new construction. As I stated before, virtually every master planned community built in the last 30 years has buried utilities. The problem is retrofitting established neighborhoods. It is simple to lay lines underground when nothing exists, and the cost of burying the cable is built into the price that the lot is sold for, but in established neighborhoods, things have gotten in the way over the years, and (the bigger issue) there is no mechanism for recouping the cost of burying the cable....at least, not a simple mechanism.

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  • 1 month later...

I have been getting bids from centerpoint to bury the lines in my backyard so I can give you hard prices.

I have 260 feet of lines that I want buried. Centerpoint gave me a bid of $17500 to install the underground lines. But, there is still a lot of work that I would have to do to get that price. I have to dig the hole the lines go in. I also have to build the thing the lines go in which is a three conduit line concrete box about 2'x3' with a bunch of special requirements. Then I have to cover up the hole. This would probably run about $5,000.

The added bonus is that Comcast and Southwestern bell would still have to come out and run their lines. I have not been able to get a price from them. Although, one of their operators told me it was free, I would be shocked if that was true.

Unfortunately this still isn't the whole cost. I have to pay to have the overhead lines removed and some new poles put in to take care of the ones that were removed. I do not know the break down on how much removal is and how much install is, but the total for both is $19,150

Grand total $41,650 plus Comcast and SW Bell costs.

As far as this discussion goes there will be economies of scale and redundancy in my numbers if you are doing the whole city, but I would guess that the $17,000 per house is closer than the $3500 per house mentioned earlier.

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