Tuesday, November 01, 2011

put power lines underground when major road work is being done


Five years ago I recommended that Con Ed put their wires underground (see NY Times article below). Con Ed rejected the recommendation-stating that the costs were prohibitive. Since 2006 there have been numerous power outages in Greenburgh. Many residents have experienced power outages three times a year. Is this a 3rd world country?

The frequent power outages have caused a loss of productivity, financial problems for businesses that have experienced power outages and significant expenses for Con Ed (hiring out of state crews to restore power and paying their own employees overtime during storms. Local governments like Greenburgh have had to assume the cost of cleanup.

At the Greenburgh Town Board work session members of the Town Board discussed whether power lines should be placed underground. A suggestion was made that makes good sense. Whenever the state/county/town is involved in a major road project the government entity that is doing the road project should work with Con Ed to bury the lines on that street. In addition...fiber optics could be placed underground --helping the locality keep up with the latest technology.

An example: NYS just completed a major road/drainage/sidewalk project off of Dobbs Ferry Road and W Hartsdale Ave. There are currently outages in this section of town. If wires had been placed underground during the construction we might have avoided significant outages.

The federal and state governments, as part of a stimulus job creation initiative, could provide local governments and Con Ed with financial help when roads are repaved and milled.

If the above suggestion is implemented we will be moving in the right direction...there will be fewer outages and the cost of placing wires underground will not be prohibitive since the work will be done gradually. Fewer outages will mean that when there are storms- those who experience outages will get their power restored quicker.
Greenburgh Town Supervisor

For Con Ed, It May Be Time to Go Underground
Published: September 24, 2006
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AT first there was something charmingly old-fashioned about it: Dad, Mom and the children gathered around, reading by candlelight and flashlight; people idling with neighbors they scarcely knew before; lunches and dinners cooked on outdoor grills.

But the charm of a plague of darkness like the kind that struck Westchester three times this summer wears thin in today's ultra-wired universe. The children want to watch a DVD rather than turn the pages of a book or play gin rummy. They don't even know what gin rummy is. Husbands and wives need to check their e-mail 24/7, even on lazy holiday weekends. Cellphones and iPods need to be recharged. Trader Joe's frozen jasmine rice goes bad when the refrigerator dies.

The power failures that Westchester had -- from Ernesto on Labor Day weekend, a tornado and lesser windstorm in July and powerful storms earlier in the year -- were not the kind of encompassing grid failures that blacked out New York City in 1965, 1977 and 2003. Lights then were restored in a day or two.

But with Ernesto blowing down 1,300 trees and weekend utility crews spread exceedingly thin, whole neighborhoods had to cope without electricity for five or six days. The romance faded very quickly.

The supervisor of Greenburgh, Paul J. Feiner, who compared the ineffective response with that of a Third World country, has asked the utility to explore the merits of gradually burying power lines underground, where they won't be a subject to the whims of weather. He suggested that overhead lines might be as outdated as rotary-dial phones.

''People have no confidence the power is going to stay on,'' he said. ''I've had constituents who had five, six and seven outages this year alone.''

Mr. Feiner comes up with proposals as often as Mickey Rooney once did, though his are not aimed at prospective brides. But this time he may be right: burying cables may be an idea whose time has come. The suburbs have matured from quaint bedroom communities to places where one-third of Americans live. In 1950, just before Con Edison took over county power, Westchester had 625,000 people, or 1,445 per square mile. It now has 923,459, or 2,134 per square mile. While it once had 25,000 acres of farmland, it is down to 9,900, mostly plant nurseries enabling suburbanites to adorn backyards.

Americans live far differently than they did in the 1950's or even the 90's. More work out of their homes because they can, as long as computers and fax machines keep working. Children raised on Super Mario Brothers cannot spend four days by flashlight.

William J. McGrath, Con Edison's vice president for the Bronx and Westchester electric operations, marshals some compelling arguments for keeping the present system. It costs $100,000 a mile to string a line overhead, but $1 million to bury it, which would mean $5 billion for the entire county. Those figures don't include the costs of repeatedly restringing lines after storms, but Mr. McGrath said repairs on underground cables, though less frequent, are much more expensive and take much longer than lifting workers to the top of a pole in a bucket truck.

Con Edison, he said, runs underground cable in downtowns like White Plains and Yonkers where the density of population and the density of cables required justify the costs. But homeowners in more spread-out villages, he argued, would not want to see their bills raised to pay for burying cables, including the $2,000 to $10,000 per home for new metering equipment.

But what Con Edison doesn't seem to factor in is the cost of lost days of work, spoiled food, hotels for orphans of the storm -- and shattered equanimity. If predictions of global warming and its consequences are to be trusted, Westchester residents can expect more seasons of fierce storms and hair-pulling disruptions -- true inconveniences, not just inconvenient truths.

Yes, less well-to-do homeowners will recoil at the cost of submerging power lines, but discussion can begin with state and local governments about ways to have wealthier homeowners pick up more of the tab, perhaps by tying the bill for construction to the assessed value of houses. The state can also provide subsidies.

Chris Olert, a Con Ed spokesman, said the company would soon evaluate its performance, as it does after every big storm. One question that should be studied is why there were not more crews on call for the Labor Day weekend. But readiness is a management problem; the bigger issue is where power lines should be. Many frustrated county residents are saying that gradually burying them in more teeming suburban areas -- over dozens of years so the bills don't pinch -- should be at the top of the agenda.

Photo (Photo by Alan Zale for The New York Times)

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