By Hakan Ozmen, President and CEO of Prysmian Group North America
“Months later, thousands of Columbia residents still without power.”
From Ventura County, California, to Puerto Rico, we’ve become too comfortable with these headlines from disaster-ridden areas. This past year ranks as one of the most catastrophic in history, claiming dozens of lives and over $200 billion dollars in federal spending. While disasters themselves aren’t preventable, these headlines are. Yet the problem continues to linger over our heads.
Burying overhead power lines is an obvious solution to responsibly powering our cities. Overhead power lines are one of the leading source of wildfires, but sadly most power providers aren’t even having a conversation about making a change. The longer cities go without power, the more endangered residents become without essential access to heating or air conditioning and potentially lifesaving medical devices. Other critical infrastructure is maintained underground, so why isn’t something as important to survival as electricity also underground?
Skeptics say the price of burying cables is too high. It’s true that the initial cost of installing overhead power lines is cheaper than installing them below ground. But we must shift our focus and base this issue on the full life cycle of cost comparison and the potential cost to our economy and communities. Look at the millions of dollars spent every year to repair and maintain power lines, not to mention expenses incurred by everyday damage caused by storms and tree limbs. It’s shortsighted and even irresponsible to let upfront costs deter us from improving the reliability of our country’s vital power sources. Once a supportive, highly concealed infrastructure is in place, the entire system becomes much easier, and less expensive, to maintain.
As a European native, I’ve witnessed firsthand the progress made in countries like Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to wire societies for the future and safety of their residents. Some evidence in Europe suggests the potential dangers of overhead lines, which is why you won’t find them near hospitals or schools. In general, lawmakers in the European Union seek to maximize resources and minimize waste to create an efficient network that benefits everyone, which includes investing in underground cable.
U.S. businesses, on the other hand, place more emphasis on immediate monetary risks and gains. Since that’s the case, I often shed light on the impact underground power lines have on property values for their reliability and aesthetic appeal. One study found that overhead power lines can decrease property values by 6 to 10 percent. That’s as much as $20,000 on a $200,000 home. Ridding our cities of these unappealing sight lines may require a cultural shift, but it’s an investment worth making.
So where to start? First, local governments and residents need to begin the conversation. Whether regulations or incentives are put into place, we must work together to realize the importance of burying overhead cables for the reliability of our infrastructure and the safety and future of our communities.
The Post and Courier