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Opening Arguments

Let's bury our problems

I'm on City Councilman Mitch Harper's emailing list, and on Sunday, he sent out a storm-related message that included the following:

As many in Fort Wayne continue restoring power and assessing damages, let's plan for the future.  The city council needs to contract an independent risk assessment of the viability of underground power lines.  Like any good business, long-term planning for disasters is typically a good investment which uses dimes to save dollars.

Coincidentally, CNN contributor David Frum has a piece urging consideration of buried power lines throughtout the country. After noting that the German power grid has outages at an average rate of 21 minutes per year, he observes:

There's no Teutonic engineering magic to this impressive record. It's achieved by a very simple decision: Germany buries almost all of its low-voltage and medium-voltage power lines, the lines that serve individual homes and apartments. Americans could do the same. They have chosen not to.

The choice has been made for reasons of cost. The industry rule of thumb is that it costs about 10 times as much to bury wire as to string wire overhead: up to $1 million per mile, industry representatives claim. Since American cities are much less dense than European ones, there would be a lot more wire to string to serve a U.S. population than a European one.

Higher construction costs would of course mean higher utility rates, but doesn't the tradeoff of fewer outages justify at least considering the option? And just think of the aesthetic benefits, a nice, clea landscape not mired by all those overhead lines.