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Mid-Hudson Valley residents are no strangers to powerful storms that bring strong winds, rain and heavy snow that topple trees, block roads and interrupt electric service. Some have suggested placing electric utility lines underground as a way to avoid power outages that may result from severe weather. However, there are serious concerns in burying the approximately 7,300 miles of overhead electric distribution lines and 600 miles of transmission lines that serve our region.

Perhaps the most significant is the cost of undergrounding, estimated to be about $18 billion for the system that serves the Mid-Hudson Valley. This would have a major impact on the price of electric service, permanently adding an average of more than $10,000 per customer per year, a cost which residents and businesses would no doubt find intolerable to existing utility bills. Also, underground lines are not immune to outages due to environmental conditions, are more expensive to maintain, and are five to ten times more expensive to replace or upgrade when that should become necessary.

There are many logistical issues, too. Streams, wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas along roadsides must be crossed; transformers and other facilities now located on top of poles must be relocated on the ground, almost always on private property; residents would be required to have their electrician install an underground service line at their own expense, typically $2,000 for residences and potentially much more for businesses; and telephone and cable television companies would also have to bury their lines, which carries an additional high cost.

Trees near underground lines would have to be completely removed, as root systems will impact lines and hinder future access. Power outages, when they do occur, will take much longer to find and repair, possibly weeks.

Underground utility lines do make sense in specific cases, such as densely populated urban areas and, as required by state law, in new residential developments, where the installation can take place together with road construction, and site excavation work financed by the developer. However, converting the existing overhead systems to underground is not in the best interest of our customers.

The solution? Central Hudson continues to invest in the electric distribution and transmission system each year, and follows a comprehensive tree-trimming program. Even when considering major storms, our customers' electric service reliability averages 99.92 percent.

Facts-at-a-glance

Costs:

Installation:
Underground distribution lines: 7,300 miles @ average of  $1.6 million per mile: $12 billion
Underground Transmission lines: 600 miles @ average of $7 million per mile: $4.2 billion
Remove existing overhead lines: $530 million
Ground mounted transformers and equipment: $1.3 billion

Total approximate installation costs: $18 billion

Annual underground maintenance costs: $5 million per year

Cost savings with underground system:
Tree trimming and storm-related costs: $18 million per year
Operation and maintenance costs of overhead system: $10.5 million per year

Net increase to customers
Approximate permanent annual revenue requirement: $3.24 billion per year
Approximate permanent annual increase in electric utility bills,
average per customer: $10,000 per year

Reliability of current overhead system:
With major storms: 99.92 percent reliability
Without major storms: 99.96 percent reliability

Additional customer costs:
One-time underground service line, provided by electrician: $2,000 per residence (higher for businesses);
Telephone and cable television line would also have to be buried, at an additional high cost.

Other factors

  • Underground lines are:
    • not immune to outages due to environmental conditions;
    • susceptible to accidental contact by excavators;
    • more expensive to maintain, and five to ten times more expensive to replace or upgrade when that should become necessary;
  • Streams, wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas along roadsides must be crossed;
  • Underground lines may have to run along two sides of the road to reach homes on both sides, or frequent road crossings must be trenched;
  • Transformers and other facilities now located on top of poles must be relocated on the ground, almost always on private property;
  • Trees near underground lines would be completely removed, as root systems will impact lines and interfere with the installation and access;
  • Power outages, when they do occur, would take much longer to find and repair, possibly weeks.

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