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mrfootball

Burying Utility Lines - Aesthetics Too Much for Houston?

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Interesting discussion the other day on the radio about how Harris County gives utilities companies a free pass to junk up the aesthetics of our city in not requiring them to bury power/cable/phone lines like other cities do.

Imagine how much nicer the streetscape would be if we didn't have millions of miles of overhead wires and poles crisscrossing our streets?

I've heard people (utility advocates) say that in Houston, they can't do it b/c of the soil...I think that's BS...they do it here in Longwood and in many other master-planned communities. It makes a real difference.

Obviously, you couldn't do this all over the city, and it would take years to begin seeing the difference, but why wait? Why not start requiring this of all new projects?

Has there ever been any proposals to force local utility companies to begin burying their lines?

Edited by mrfootball

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It is not soil or aesthetics, but cost. The overhead lines are already in place. The utility company does not want to incur the expense of burying the line. New development, however, almost always gets buried, not just for aesthetics, but because buried power lines do not blow over in hurricanes. So, the utility company has it's incentive, they just will not convert existing lines until they need to.

Remember, deregulation removed all incentive to upgrade facilities. The free market advocates forgot to warn us about that. Oops. :huh:

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Remember, deregulation removed all incentive to upgrade facilities. The free market advocates forgot to warn us about that. Oops. :huh:

Your comment raises a number of questions.

First, are you sure the transmission and distribution facilities are deregulated? I thought not.

Second, if deregulation supposedly removed all incentive, that suggests there was incentive under regulation. What was that incentive? And if there was, as you suggest incentive to upgrade facilities under the regulated regime, why is Houston still covered with unburied lines?

Third, if, as you say, deregulation removed all incentive to upgrade facilities, that suggests that no unregulated business ever has an incentive to upgrade their facilities. That just can't be correct, can it?

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Your comment raises a number of questions.

First, are you sure the transmission and distribution facilities are deregulated? I thought not.

Second, if deregulation supposedly removed all incentive, that suggests there was incentive under regulation. What was that incentive? And if there was, as you suggest incentive to upgrade facilities under the regulated regime, why is Houston still covered with unburied lines?

Third, if, as you say, deregulation removed all incentive to upgrade facilities, that suggests that no unregulated business ever has an incentive to upgrade their facilities. That just can't be correct, can it?

19514, you are correct, that the plants and transmission lines were not deregulated. That is actually part of the problem, in that it was only a partial deregulation. Back when HL&P owned everything, they could be reimbursed for improvements to the system. Once they proved how much they were spending, the PUC would allow them a reasonable profit. The more they spent, the more they made. Deregulation created 3 groups, Generators, Transmission and Sellers. Now, the transmission lines are the least profitable part of the system. All of the money is made by Reliant, the seller, not CenterPoint, the transmission owner.

Here's an article that explains this nationwide problem better than I.

http://www.aip.org/tip/INPHFA/vol-9/iss-5/p8.html

As to whether there is ever an incentive to upgrade, think about your car. It gets cheaper to operate once it is paid off. But, over time it starts to break down more often. When the breakdowns cost more than a new car, you replace it. Of course, there are tax incentives involved when it is a business, as well.

As to why there are still unburied lines? There is a limit to what the PUC would approve. If HL&P could not make the case, it would not be allowed to recoup the cost.

Interesting tidbit: Prior to dereg, Houston had the lowest electricity costs in the country. Today, because so many of our generating plants run on natural gas, we have the highest electricity in the country.

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Interesting tidbit: Prior to dereg, Houston had the lowest electricity costs in the country. Today, because so many of our generating plants run on natural gas, we have the highest electricity in the country.

What are you implying?

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What are you implying?

Mostly, that those that promised that deregulation would cause our already low rates to drop, were full of ____. Also, that they knew it was a lie when they said it. Prior to dereg, PUC also regulated the utility companies' profit. It was a dull, but very predictable stock. Now, there are huge profits in the utility industry. Those profits have to come from somewhere. They are coming in the form of higher rates. And, instead of one regulated utility, now there are 3 for profit entities splitting up that electric bill, the generator, transmission and seller. How is that an efficient model?

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Let me start mucking this up with the underground power lines. I had this same discussion here at work a few months back with an electrical engineer. Now, I'm going to muck-up a lot of the facts here 'cause I am just an excel geek...but...

Burying power lines is actually a very difficult feat. As energy moves down wires it looses electrons. When you bury the lines, those electrons have nowhere to go, thus creating a very, very hot environment. This extreme environment causes a degradation of the lines, requiring complete replacement every 10 (I think) years or so. So that would mean every ten years we would have to dig up ALL the lines to fully replace them.

There were other topics such as material used, type of soil surrounding the wires, etc...

Any engineers or other smart people here who can help clairify?

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Interesting tidbit: Prior to dereg, Houston had the lowest electricity costs in the country. Today, because so many of our generating plants run on natural gas, we have the highest electricity in the country.

I thought most generation serving Houston was coal - especially the Farish (sp) plant near Richmond-Rosenberg.

I agree that all the overhead wires are an eyesore. Couldn't a regulation be passed to require burying lines over a decade or so, or when major road rebuildings take place? The odd thing is that even though the overhead lines are ugly, it's the kind of thing you tend not to notice. I never really paid any attention until a co-worker said that he thought that all the lines made Houston look like a third-world country. And he was from Turkey! :lol:

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Mostly, that those that promised that deregulation would cause our already low rates to drop, were full of ____. Also, that they knew it was a lie when they said it. Prior to dereg, PUC also regulated the utility companies' profit. It was a dull, but very predictable stock. Now, there are huge profits in the utility industry. Those profits have to come from somewhere. They are coming in the form of higher rates. And, instead of one regulated utility, now there are 3 for profit entities splitting up that electric bill, the generator, transmission and seller. How is that an efficient model?

I could have sworn that you'd have made the connection, given that you stated the explanation behind higher prices in recent years...but for god's sake man...

To quote yourself, "Today, because so many of our generating plants run on natural gas, we have the highest electricity in the country." That is a factual statement. If we had more nuclear/coal plants, our prices would be lower. But our power plants were all built during the period of high regulation. Under regulation, a company would almost never be allowed to operate at a loss. If the prices of producing electricity go up, then the regulators would change the prices to reflect the increase in production cost, allowing all utilities to operate at a guaranteed (if marginal) profit in a regulated monopolistic business environment.

Now, the cost of production has gone up and it has been passed on to the consumers. I can't say whether they're taking more or less profit for themselves (or whether that may or may not be a good/bad thing in the long term), but I can assure you that the prices would have gone up one way or the other.

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I thought most generation serving Houston was coal - especially the Farish (sp) plant near Richmond-Rosenberg.

I agree that all the overhead wires are an eyesore. Couldn't a regulation be passed to require burying lines over a decade or so, or when major road rebuildings take place? The odd thing is that even though the overhead lines are ugly, it's the kind of thing you tend not to notice. I never really paid any attention until a co-worker said that he thought that all the lines made Houston look like a third-world country. And he was from Turkey! :lol:

Actually, that was the first thing I notice when I visited houston. And I had the same reaction as your friend. But I am still moving there.

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I'm probably mistaken, but didn't I hear that the power lines on the Katy we're going to be buried?

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They are. They are currently relocating some under ground. The whole corridor will be rid of the high transmission lines.

About burying lines underground:

High voltage transmission lines are extremely complicated to burry underground. Having them high overhead is the most energy (and cost) efficient way build transmission lines. Special insulation casings are needed because typical insulation wouldn't last on high voltage wires.

The low voltage lines that run along our streets and supply power directly to houses and businesses are another story. These lines can be easily be burried since the low voltage won't deteriorate the line or insulation.

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High voltage transmission lines are extremely complicated to burry underground. Having them high overhead is the most energy (and cost) efficient way build transmission lines. Special insulation casings are needed because typical insulation wouldn't last on high voltage wires.

The low voltage lines that run along our streets and supply power directly to houses and businesses are another story. These lines can be easily be burried since the low voltage won't deteriorate the line or insulation.

Just to clarify....when you say low voltage, you mean the stuff in the 12kV (I think), and high voltage would be in the 100s of kV range??

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They are. They are currently relocating some under ground. The whole corridor will be rid of the high transmission lines.

So those huge masts that currently line the freeway will be gone? They look to be new and a very expensive way to house temporary power.

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I've heard people (utility advocates) say that in Houston, they can't do it b/c of the soil...I think that's BS.

You're right. It is B.S. They do it in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo, L.A., and dozens of other cities with less stable soil than Houston. They're just being cheap and stupid.

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So those huge masts that currently line the freeway will be gone? They look to be new and a very expensive way to house temporary power.

I don't see what would prevent them from being reused elsewhere...just take the lines, off, un-bolt the bases and haul 'em away to somewhere else.

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I don't see what would prevent them from being reused elsewhere...just take the lines, off, un-bolt the bases and haul 'em away to somewhere else.

I thought about that to, they just seem to be such massive masts. They would have to unearth the bases as well which are pretty big in there own right.

By the way, when did they dig these lines? I'm on the Katy all the time and never noticed it.

Edited by Gary

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19514, you are correct, that the plants and transmission lines were not deregulated. That is actually part of the problem, in that it was only a partial deregulation. Back when HL&P owned everything, they could be reimbursed for improvements to the system. Once they proved how much they were spending, the PUC would allow them a reasonable profit. The more they spent, the more they made. Deregulation created 3 groups, Generators, Transmission and Sellers. Now, the transmission lines are the least profitable part of the system. All of the money is made by Reliant, the seller, not CenterPoint, the transmission owner.

Here's an article that explains this nationwide problem better than I.

http://www.aip.org/tip/INPHFA/vol-9/iss-5/p8.html

As to whether there is ever an incentive to upgrade, think about your car. It gets cheaper to operate once it is paid off. But, over time it starts to break down more often. When the breakdowns cost more than a new car, you replace it. Of course, there are tax incentives involved when it is a business, as well.

As to why there are still unburied lines? There is a limit to what the PUC would approve. If HL&P could not make the case, it would not be allowed to recoup the cost.

Interesting tidbit: Prior to dereg, Houston had the lowest electricity costs in the country. Today, because so many of our generating plants run on natural gas, we have the highest electricity in the country.

In other words (if I may cut to the point) contrary to your first post regarding deregulation, deregulation cannot be blamed and has nothing to do with the existence of overhead lines in Houston.

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In other words (if I may cut to the point) contrary to your first post regarding deregulation, deregulation cannot be blamed and has nothing to do with the existence of overhead lines in Houston.

Correct...to a point. Deregulation has nothing to do with why the lines were originally above ground. Deregulation has a lot to do with why we probably won't see them buried. The bigger problem with deregulation has more to do with capacity and transmission than aesthetics.

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Correct...to a point. Deregulation has nothing to do with why the lines were originally above ground. Deregulation has a lot to do with why we probably won't see them buried. The bigger problem with deregulation has more to do with capacity and transmission than aesthetics.

Nonsense.

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You're right. It is B.S. They do it in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo, L.A., and dozens of other cities with less stable soil than Houston. They're just being cheap and stupid.

Add to the list: New York City. Surely everything is buried all over the city and its soil is a bit rocky to unstable due to its location on the Atlantic. But there are power line spots in the city but they are very few of them. And BTW, now that I brought that up, density has nothing to do with why power lines aren't buried. I lived in the Bay Area, and San Francisco, as dense as it is, has power lines running all over like crazy. Since transmission towers aren't allowed close to the city due to potential risk of earthquake, they have substations 10 miles away, and there are tall pylons with 3 sets of 3 power lines each on the same pole. Now Oakland has the same thing but at least from what I found out there were major streets that had reconstruction and at least PG&E had the sense to join up on the approval to chop the poles down and bury the lines underground -- even if it was 2 sets of three lines. Other densly populated cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia still don't have lines underground in at least 85% of the city infrastructure cover.

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On the plus side, it's easier to repair when things go to hell.

New York has had a delicate flower of a time trying to resolve their grid issues.

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Add to the list: New York City. Surely everything is buried all over the city and its soil is a bit rocky to unstable due to its location on the Atlantic. But there are power line spots in the city but they are very few of them. And BTW, now that I brought that up, density has nothing to do with why power lines aren't buried. I lived in the Bay Area, and San Francisco, as dense as it is, has power lines running all over like crazy. Since transmission towers aren't allowed close to the city due to potential risk of earthquake, they have substations 10 miles away, and there are tall pylons with 3 sets of 3 power lines each on the same pole. Now Oakland has the same thing but at least from what I found out there were major streets that had reconstruction and at least PG&E had the sense to join up on the approval to chop the poles down and bury the lines underground -- even if it was 2 sets of three lines. Other densly populated cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia still don't have lines underground in at least 85% of the city infrastructure cover.

NYC is currently having big issues with the buried lines. With the excessive heat many parts of the country have been experiencing. A/C use has become required. NYC has been having line failures. Since the lines are underground, some parts of the city have been going without power for more than a week because the portion that has failed cannot be located.

Also putting them underground after the fact would probably create a ruckus becuase EVERY structure would have to hire an electrician to reroute the supply into the structure. Some of course would complain that they don't have the money.

But there are pros and cons to both.

For instance, during high wind situations, damage from trees would be minimal....except maybe if the tree was uprooted and a few wires were also brought up.

I believe if there is an organized effort, the power company will make some changes as long as the group is willing to pay the bill. The townhomes on Montrose near Dallas did complain of aesthetics and the lines were raised. So their view is better but everyone elses is worse.

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I really do not see the problem with burying power lines. Whats the most EXTENSIVE things we have in the city other than roads or highways? The answer= SEWERS. Reroute the power lines underground using the sewer system. If trouble arises in the lines, it should not be too difficult to get into the sewer system to repair them. I wonder if anyone had ever looked into that?

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I really do not see the problem with burying power lines. Whats the most EXTENSIVE things we have in the city other than roads or highways? The answer= SEWERS. Reroute the power lines underground using the sewer system. If trouble arises in the lines, it should not be too difficult to get into the sewer system to repair them. I wonder if anyone had ever looked into that?

I believe they did that around the fountains (Main @ Montrose) infront of the Warwick Hotel & Warwick Towers.

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I really do not see the problem with burying power lines. Whats the most EXTENSIVE things we have in the city other than roads or highways? The answer= SEWERS. Reroute the power lines underground using the sewer system. If trouble arises in the lines, it should not be too difficult to get into the sewer system to repair them. I wonder if anyone had ever looked into that?

Just hope there's not an inadvertant cut in the line cause the next time you sit on the pot the shock might send you flying.

The gases in the sewer line and electricity probably wont be a good mix.

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Just hope there's not an inadvertant cut in the line cause the next time you sit on the pot the shock might send you flying.

The gases in the sewer line and electricity probably wont be a good mix.

Who will be there cutting lines? Gremlins? Its not the first time lines have been buried using sewers and this hasnt been a problem before ;)

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Water/electricity/Methane.

Yum. The fire triangle is right there.

And who will cut the wires? Rats.

Even if they're incased in steal, those little f@@@kers will chew through anything.

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Water/electricity/Methane.

Yum. The fire triangle is right there.

And who will cut the wires? Rats.

Even if they're incased in steal, those little f@@@kers will chew through anything.

Must be an awful lot of explosions downtown Houston and every other large CBD around the country because of this.........

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You're right, in new york they have seperate routes for elecctrical and the other utilities. but they do have issues with rats eating through cables, though.

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Who will be there cutting lines? Gremlins? Its not the first time lines have been buried using sewers and this hasnt been a problem before ;)

Remember not all the power lines are the same. The voltage varies depending on where the actual wire is in the system i.e. the closer to the home, the lower the voltage. Also there are also low voltage systems which are not a hazard.

I know that the old sewers are upgraded by running another "pipe" thru the old one. This is less invasive than digging up everyone's backyard. At least in my neighborhood that's how they were upgraded. If there were high voltage wires internal to the pipe, this method of upgrade would not be possible from the public works perspective.

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You're right, in new york they have seperate routes for elecctrical and the other utilities. but they do have issues with rats eating through cables, though.

Is this the same New York with sewer rats the size of cats? :lol:

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yeah, the same one that seems to have the minor electrical issues going on right now. :)

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Makes sense from a safety, reliability and aesthetic standpoint. Here's an interesting article discussing this:

The Future Is Here, and It's Ugly; A Spreading Techno-blight of Wires, Cables and Towers Sparks a Revolt

http://tech2.nytimes.com/mem/technology/te...amp;oref=slogin

Add to thread: another interesting link, this time about a California electric company investing every year to bury lines underground. Centerpoint should put away a million dollars every year for the next 15 years to do this -- and contract with the city street department to do this from then on out.

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Does anyone know approx. how much it would cost to bury utility lines in Houston? My boyfriend and I have been looking at houses and several of the ones we are interested in have powerlines and cables running over the backyard. It looks pretty hideous.

Thanks!

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Does anyone know approx. how much it would cost to bury utility lines in Houston? My boyfriend and I have been looking at houses and several of the ones we are interested in have powerlines and cables running over the backyard. It looks pretty hideous.

Thanks!

Has anyone thought of the cost incurred of UPGRADING the grid either cable tv, phone or electrical? When my neighborhood was uprgaded with cable internet they ran a coaxial type cable and strung it with a wire wrapping device. In 30 mins they covered about a mile. Imagine underground? Not to mention the green transformers for cars to crash into. Or worse in your backyard.

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i HAVE a green transformer box in my back yard and noone would no it. has shrubs planted around it and is placed in the corner. frames the yard to have shrubs there anyhow so no big deal to have one in the back yard. and it beats the alternative.

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Widespread hardening of the power grid along the Gulf Coast is too expensive a solution to prevent another blanket blackout like Houston experienced int he weekns following Hurricane Ike, according to a report commissioned by the state's Public Utility Commission.

Richard Brown, vice president at Quanta Technology, spearheaded the report. He said broad-based approaches such as burying all power lines are cost-prohibitive at a price of $1 million per mile.

"If you put just distribution lines underground, it would double rates," he said of the transportation costs consumers pay as part of their utility bills.

Texas has 28,200 miles of overhead power lines within 50 miles of the coast, which would cost $28 billion to bury. By contrast, the cost of storm damage to the grid in the last decade was $1.8 billion, according to the report.

full article

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Widespread hardening of the power grid along the Gulf Coast is too expensive a solution to prevent another blanket blackout like Houston experienced int he weekns following Hurricane Ike, according to a report commissioned by the state's Public Utility Commission.

Richard Brown, vice president at Quanta Technology, spearheaded the report. He said broad-based approaches such as burying all power lines are cost-prohibitive at a price of $1 million per mile.

"If you put just distribution lines underground, it would double rates," he said of the transportation costs consumers pay as part of their utility bills.

Texas has 28,200 miles of overhead power lines within 50 miles of the coast, which would cost $28 billion to bury. By contrast, the cost of storm damage to the grid in the last decade was $1.8 billion, according to the report.

full article

And what was the economic cost of millions of people not having power for weeks? There's no reason they would all be buried at once. Couldn't it be phased in over 10-15 years?

Also I've pointed it out before, ongoing maintenance costs are a lot less for buried lines (at least in urban areas - the argument is less clear in rural areas). My source for this was some transmission engineers.

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And what was the economic cost of millions of people not having power for weeks? There's no reason they would all be buried at once. Couldn't it be phased in over 10-15 years?

if burying just the distribution lines underground doubles rates, that additional cost alone makes it cost prohibitive. you won't get a near majority to agree to this.

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And what was the economic cost of millions of people not having power for weeks? There's no reason they would all be buried at once. Couldn't it be phased in over 10-15 years?

Also I've pointed it out before, ongoing maintenance costs are a lot less for buried lines (at least in urban areas - the argument is less clear in rural areas). My source for this was some transmission engineers.

According to the City of Houston's website.

The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown MSA's Gross Area Product (GAP) in 2006 was $325.5 billion, slightly larger than Austria's, Poland's or Saudi Arabia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Approximately 75% of electricity customers had power after the first week. The remaining 25% took over a month after Ike to restore power. So let's say that the 75% of first-week customers averaged five days of outages and that the remaining 25% of customers averaged two weeks.

Two weeks of a 75% Gross Area Product loss would equate to a $3.3 billion loss, and the remainder would be another $3.1 billion loss; together, that's a $6.4 billion dollar impact. Reality is that the most critical infrastructure was repaired quickly, however, so I'm positive that it is less than that. I don't know what the appropriate adjustment factor is, though.

Another thing to consider is that even though electricity was out in many areas, that doesn't mean that productivity came to a standstill. The 'broken window effect' applies.

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This argument again?

I love all the napkin calculations.

Nobody knows how much it would cost to bury the lines.

Nobody knows how much money was lost be not having power after Ike.

Nobody knows when the next major outage is going to hit.

That doesnt mean we should try and improve the city.

Underground power lines have many advantages over above ground lines.

Edited by Mr. Chenevert

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This argument again?

I love all the napkin calculations.

not sure anyone is arguing. sounds like whining.

Edited by musicman

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