City Officials Contemplating Underground Power Lines

Last week, thousands of people were out of power for days due to power lines being interrupted during a severe thunderstorm. These power outages have forced city officials to rethink how power is supplied.  

Although underground power lines seem like a great alternative to the problem, it will not come without sacrifice. Tallahassee electric department officials estimate it would cost $1.7 million per mile in Tallahassee to convert the city's remaining overhead wires.

They based that on having done several conversions for developers who were willing to pay the city too. Most recently they converted wires in the Woodward Avenue area near College Town, which cost an estimated $300,000.

Although this a small sample size, it is costly nonetheless, but pales in comparison to the $1.95 billion it would take to convert all of Tallahassee's power lines.

A common excuse to not use underground lines is because failures take longer to repair: When an overhead line is knocked down by a tree, it's easy to locate the broken wire. When an underground line fails, repairmen have to pull the entire line to find the problem, which may take hours.

Rob McGarrah, general manager of Tallahassee's electric department, feels that the new lines are a great idea, but financial reasons could create potential roadblocks.  

"While I would love to see the entire system underground, I think it would be cost prohibitive," said McGarrah. "We've got to balance cost and reliability. And it would be very costly."  

In addition to the power lines, Talgov officials feel that trimmed trees could further prevent power lines from going down if they are not able to reach the lines.  

Antonio Mills, a first-year Florida A&M University physical therapy student from West Palm Beach, Fla., feels that his power would have been fine had his tree been trimmed.

"Near my house there was a tree branch that hung about five feet from a power line," said Mills. "I always knew it would be a problem. Last week, it took out the line. I was out of power for like three days until the city repaired it."  

Despite it being comfortable for residents to maintain power through natural disasters, it will not be as convenient for their wallets.  

City officials estimate burying the city's overhead electric distribution lines underground would cost $40 million a year for 50 years. A method being considered to counteract the cost is to increase monthly utility bills. Some of the expected increases are as follows: Residential ($17.07), Small commercial ($25.60), Medium commercial ($512), and Large commercial ($3,413).  

Devon Lawrence, of Tampa, believes that the new lines are needed and doesn’t mind paying the difference in her bill.  

"I feel that they [underground power lines] are needed because going days without power always interrupts people's daily lives in a major way…I was late to class because I didn't have any power," said Lawrence. "It doesn't bother me to pay the increase as long as the money is being is being used to further our community I don't see why not. It's not like it's a substantial amount of money."