We Must Bury Them
The 800-Pound Gorilla in Hurricane Season
Adam Garfinkle is editor of The American Interest.
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  • 李明洙

    Hmm I like it just for esthetics and avoiding the mess in a storm. But America is not Europe indeed. If you have UHV and EHV lines snaking out across some expanse from a nuclear or coal plant to service multiple urban centers then it provides little protection.

    Those UHV and EHV lines will still be above ground on the lattices. The distance could be easily 10 or even 20 miles. Does it cross farmland? You’re not gonna trench thousands of acres of farmland. Was probably hard enough to get the lattices up across it.

    Earthquake, tornado, EMP all will still effect your power. But I certainly agree that for small storms and local accidents and the esthetics the lines could be and should be buried underground in town.

  • WigWag

    I have a home in Ft. Lauderdale. Almost all of the power lines in the city (and most of Broward County) are below ground. After the recent hurricane we lost power for six days which, under the circumstances, actually wasn’t too bad.

    Burying the power lines is an excellent idea, but, of course, it’s no panacea.

    • johngbarker

      I hope you did not suffer damage in the event; glad to have you back in print.

      • WigWag

        Thanks, John. Always nice to hear your voice in cyberspace. No damage (thank goodness) other than some spoiled food in the freezer and refrigerator.

  • Gary Hemminger

    Have you seen the size of the European countries that bury their power lines? Have you seen their city designs based on century old, tiny little districts? Mr. Garfinkle clearly need to go back and brush up on his geography, because the size of American cities are vast and the distance between them even more vast than any comparable (and there are none) European cities or states. Putting the power lines underground would be massively expensive. And much of the cable infrastructure is strung on the power lines as well. Putting power lines underground in CA would probably not be a good idea either.

  • D4x

    “…RESNICK-AULT: Puerto Rico has had an incredible emigration out of the island to the mainland, and the power company is no exception to the rule. They’ve lost thousands of employees over the past five years. Some people
    estimate as many as 4,000 or more employees have left the company.

    SREENIVASAN: One of the things that was startling from th report is there is really not a steady stream of revenue.

    Not everybody pays their power bills.

    RESNICK-AULT: Right. Even the government has not paid its own power bills. There are up to $700 million in uncollected bills from
    government agencies.

    SREENIVASAN: I’ve heard that some of the tech companies are trying to start helping. I mean, we saw kind of a Twitter conversation roll out between Elon Musk and the governor yesterday, saying perhaps solar and batteries can be part of your solution, if you’re rethinking this thing from scratch.

    RESNICK-AULT: But even before the storm, there had been discussions about solar and renewables. They even made it to the Department of Energy level with Puerto Rican officials meting with the DOE. But those conversations have never materialized in real change in Puerto Rico’s grid because PREPA and its board have such control over the island’s electricity
    grilled and have been resistant to change that would bring in new utilities. …“
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/puerto-ricos-power-struggles-predate-hurricane-maria/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOEd2i1FWjM
    Cinderella’s fairy godmother did not have to fight any bureaucracy, and was really good with shoes 2015, Disney.

    Adam Garfinkle is so full of bile he forgets that Donald J. Trump is the builder who FINALLY repaired the Wolman Skating Rink in Central Park, after NYC’s mostly dysfunctional bureaucracy failed, for more years than I remember.

    And, after eight years of waiting for my rural broadband, I moved. The Massachusetts layers of authorities were still having conversations about who could do what to get those wires the last twenty miles.

  • Boritz

    “over time that savings would more than compensate for the greater up-front costs”

    Countless projects with this financial profile are passed over all the time. Businesses are sensitive to pay back period as a measure of project viability even though other measures such as net present value give a more comprehensive picture of the situation. A project has to pay for itself quickly for business to care to tackle it.

  • Tom Scharf

    “Why is it that when serious storms strike most west European countries we rarely hear anything about major power outages in their wake”

    Because…Europe doesn’t haven’t hurricanes and winds 70 to 150 mph are extremely rare and very isolated when it does happen. Pretending Europe has the same threat as Florida and the Gulf Coast is idiotic.

    The author also seems to be unaware that building codes already exist.

    Florida has the toughest building codes in the nation already, and this is why you didn’t read anything about Cat4 Hurricane Irma a week after it was over. Not-even-a-hurricane-Sandy was in the news for a year.

    My neighborhood has underground utilities and power was back on in under 12 hours. Newer neighborhoods in the past decades are already increasingly underground. It takes time but is already underway, the author isn’t the first to think of this idea.

    Guess what? It costs money and mostly just higher end planned communities have this setup. Should we force people to pay for them, that is the question, not whether more robust protection is a “good idea”. Severe damage to utilities is confined to near the eye wall of a hurricane. The economics are far less than obvious and the author provides zero information to support a conclusion it is cost effective to build more robustly rather than repair damage where it occurs. It is mostly a question of new construction standards versus existing infrastructure.

    Current building codes in Florida are for 100 year storm surge levels and about Cat3 hurricane winds (130 mph). If an event exceeds those thresholds then catastrophic damage is likely. We can build to 1000 year storm surge levels and Cat5 winds, the engineering is available. Do you make every home in Florida Cat5 ready when only a minuscule fraction of homes will ever be exposed to that event? If it costs $5 more the answer is yes, if it costs $150,000 more the answer is no.

    Where do you draw the line? That’s a hard decision to make and it has financial impacts for everyone who lives in the area. It requires higher taxes or taking money away from other deserving projects. It is presumptuous of the author to infer that this line is being incorrectly drawn without any supporting data.

  • Jeff77450

    Mr. Garfinkle, good article, many thanx. I’m a native Houstonian. Yes, the lack of zoning & planning and all the ugly sprawl are indeed upsetting & dysfunctional. I’ve often thought that Houston should’ve done what Minneapolis, MN, did when it was first incorporated and that is include in the city charter the requirement that green space exist every six blocks (I’ve read). That by itself wouldn’t have solved our flooding issues but it would’ve helped.

    A firefighter once told me that there are four advantages to a manhole cover being round. Because it’s round it can be rolled on the ground instead of having to be carried. With a square manhole cover, and they do exist, you have to line up one edge of the cover with one edge of the hole to put it on. You don’t have to do that with a round cover, you can approach from any angle. I don’t remember what the fourth advantage is.

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