Should We Bury Overhead Power Lines? Massachusetts, Connecticut

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The majestic trees that line streets across  American are a beautiful sight most of the year. Then there are the weeks when a winter storm hits, and the trees shed ice-laden limbs that crash down on the power lines below. It's at those times when millions of voices rise as one to ask, "Why aren't these &@$#*%! wires underground?" And with a winter like the one we have been having, this question has been asked a lot.

The answer: Money.

After a storm that knocked out electricity to 2 million customers, regulators took a look at what it would cost to bury the overhead power lines. The state Utilities Commission concluded the project would be "prohibitively expensive."

"Such an undertaking would cost approximately $41 billion, nearly six times the net book value of the utilities' current distribution assets, and would require approximately 25 years to complete," the report states. Customers' rates would have to more than double to pay for the project, the commission' staff found.

It's not the snow, it's the ice

And underground power lines "are not without their disadvantages," they concluded. While more reliable "under normal weather conditions," they take almost 60% longer to fix when something does happen to them.

Underground power lines make up about 18% of U.S. transmission lines. Nearly all new residential and commercial developments have underground electric service. But it noted that underground power lines cost five to 10 times more than overhead wires, don't last as long and cost more to replace.

"Buried power lines are protected from the wind, ice and tree damage that are common causes of outages, and so suffer fewer weather or vegetation-related outages," it concluded. "But buried lines are more vulnerable to flooding, and can still fail due to equipment issues or lightning."