In areas that get a lot of hurricanes like New Orleans, why isn’t most of the electricity run underground where it’s less vulnerable by now?


In areas that get a lot of hurricanes like New Orleans, why isn’t most of the electricity run underground where it’s less vulnerable by now?

In: 2197

Wouldn’t help much, you just trade wind damage for flood damage. A switching station inside a tunnel is the first thing that’s out of operation if the street floods.

Generally it’s a problem of right of way subsequent to a problem of technology .

Up until about the ’70s, or maybe the ’60s, we didn’t really have good continuous insulation machines. Like wires from the 40s tended to be wrapped in cloth soaked in various chemicals, or led. None of these insulators would have been good for electrical current .

And you go back further you get to the time where there was no electrical infrastructure at all. So after that time we get to the point where the first electrical infrastructure is being put in but it was terribly unreliable and the roads and houses have already been built. So there was no practical way to bury those cables, and the cables would have failed far too often, and people walking along the street would have been electrocuted with great regularity, and a huge amount of power would have been lost to grounding.

All in all the technology to really bury power cables whole scale didn’t come into its own until the 80s or the 90s .

But that circles you back around to needing to dig up all the infrastructure to move it underground. like digging up the streets in the houses and getting permits to run the cables and all that stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, it is happening slowly but surely .

There’s also some of the problems to do with soil composition. If the soil is easily compacted then you basically have to build a road bed in a deep pit lay the cable on top of that road bed and then build another roadbed on top of it to keep the entire assembly reasonably rigid. If it’s not rigid enough the shifting of the dirt will slowly stretch the cable and eventually cause it to fail.

Simply put it is not as easy a task to accomplish as it is to simply put out in words.

Most new housing communities and electrical power regions have underground power these days. When you’re starting with a clean slate it’s very easy to do and the technology is right there.

Basically it’s the difference between doing something from scratch and having to redo something entirely .

Like if I even had the money to move all of the power for some 18th century city in the south underground, with the residents want to be without power for the probable months it would take to accomplish all at once?

So there’s a whole bunch of cost and logistics problems to be solved.

As an aside you’ve also got the mapping and detecting problem: once you bury something you have to be able to keep track of where it’s buried to make sure somebody doesn’t dig it up while doing something else.

As a counterpositive New York City has virtually everything underground, but there’s a whole infrastructure and geographical ecology taking place underground with all the steam tunnels and things that existed before the power company came in. There’s literally decade after decade of changing underground landscape. The number of weird things you can find under a city like old pneumatic tubes is pretty amazing sometimes.

EDIT: FFS Children. I never said anything was impossible. I never said anything shouldn’t be done. I was outlining the reasons why it didn’t happen. And yes the lack of political will factors into it steeply. And then of course our entire infrastructure is rotting because we’ve had decades of right-wing tax complainers. United States is infamous for not doing the right thing soon enough. We haven’t even fixed our healthcare system and that doesn’t require digging up a single bloody thing. Hell our bridges are falling down all over the place. Or they’re about to anyway. The US pretty much stopped spending on infrastructure in the ’80s, thank you Ronald Reagan and proposition 13 in California etc. Lots of our cities have underground power. And our newer suburbs. But our older suburbs not so much. Virtually no metropolitan area with a building taller than four stories or a modern supermarket has above ground wiring for power. It’s our sprawling expenses of single family dwellings built between about 1930 and 1980, however, have lots and lots of power poles. It’s almost like there is no such thing as one answer for a country the size of a continent.

You’ve never been to that part of Louisiana, have you? You can’t put much underground there. The water table is too close to the surface.

That’s also why most places don’t have basements there, and the graveyards have madoleums instead of actual graves dug in the ground. Otherwise they’ll hit water.

It’s probably not a place humans should actually be living, but oh well.

Running cable underground is more expensive typically and can be more difficult to install / replace if damaged. But in theory it’s a great idea for areas which are prone to high winds. Underground cable can have a lifetime of around 40 years in the service, often exceeding this so a slow but sure rollout of an underground cable network can work well for future proofing too. Although in some cases it’s likely that it isn’t feasible, either economically or construction wise due to difficult sub surface terrain etc.

Some parts of New Orleans are *below* the water line. The only thing that keeps the city dry is the dewatering pumps.

[I asked this on another post a few days ago]( and the consensus was that LA is built on water once you dig to a certain depth, so you would have cables floating in water.

Also, maintenance would become very expensive

It’s a matter of cost. A directional bore drill, crew, locates all cost money. Labor and expensive equipment requiring skilled operators. The cables are already in place and ultimately it costs less to keep the current infrastructure and fix it when it breaks.


If you ever find yourself asking a question that ought to have an obvious and outright apparent answer, but doesn’t…the reason is always money.

Property rights and easements can be an issue. Our neighborhood already has buried power cables, but the supply lines to our neighborhood are hung on poles – so we get outages regularly. The local electrical company is planning to bury the transmission lines that lead to our neighborhood – but they need to go house-by-house and get quizzical property owners along the path of the cables to sign a legal easement document. What if one owner refuses to sign? What if several refuse to sign? Even we needed to sign a new easement agreement (even though the power line cables are already buried across our front yard) for ‘legal’ reasons.

tl;dr: government and electric companies are not all-powerful and may not have legal access to the property on which they need to bury a long run of cable.

I have a stupid question as a follow-up: are you guys talking about power cables outside cities or are there actually cities with “exposed” power cables?

So as someone who designs power utilities there are multiple reasons. Most new systems are going underground for looks and alot of cities require it, in some fire hazard areas it is safer to have underground lines.

Alot of existing stuff requires permits and right of ways, if something breaks we cannot just replace it with what we want. Most of the time the easement will only allow us to replace exactly what is there already.

Believe it or not most utilities prefer overhead equipment, it is easier and cheaper to maintain. If something goes bad you can drive from block to block patrolling the line looking for the problem. With underground you have to locate faults and bad equipment with the process of elimination its something that is not apparently damaged, this can sometimes take up to 10 times longer to locate and fix.

And like many others have stated. Alot of it is also geography, ground water, terrain. Is it rocky or high water table, is wind an issue, is ice an issue, heat in the summer causes some oh lines to sag way low so we have to use different wire to pull it tighter.

Really the bottom line is cost. All utilities care about is dollars, if a utility can do something cheaper and safer and more reliable they will most likely do it either as part of a budget upgrade or when something goes bad they replace it with better stuff. But also the utilities are not going to go out of the way to spend money unless they have a reason. It is really a double edged sword most of the time.

Politics. Politicians have a hard time selling a long term infrastructure plan like going UG for electrical. When you take into cost how often all the overhead lines get absolutely wrecked, UG would probably be cheaper. Most new construction is UG cause it’s easier and cheaper to throw it in when a neighborhoods still getting constructed. Rough numbers, overhead is close to 5-10 bucks per LF while underground is about 20-40. So 4x the amount but your maintaince costs is much lower since you’re not worried about underground hurricanes, if they exist.

And about the water table, the line won’t get “flooded” or “shorted” as often as people think. There’s plenty cities and even countries (Netherlands) where <14kv electrical lines get runned underground without as much problems as people in the comments say there will be. People have already slowly started paying the premium for UG services off easement poles, just a matter of time before those easement poles go UG as well.

I see answers saying how expensive it would be. But come on, it’s more expensive than all the damage done over decades of storms beating the shit outta the city?

Not american here. What i have gathered about that zone is that neither the people or the authorities care. They’d rather build cheap and rebuild after every disaster, than building expensive and disaster proof infrastructure.

You’d think NO should have one of the most wind and water resistant infrastructures in the world but the houses are no very different that paper.

It’s more expensive, the company doesn’t care about you, they get bailed out by the government for failures like these. Do you want me to continue?

It cost money. That bad. Money for infrastructure bad, money for bombing other countries good.

I’m a civil engineer who specialises in utilities engineering / BIM coordination so I feel I can give some clarity on this, in my country anything 33KV and under must be under grounded; which leads to a variety of issues in itself as there are numerous requirements for clearances to other utilities such as gas / water / sewer and stormwater drainage. You’ll also run into problems where cables being too deep will result in cable rating issues (cable loses power the deeper it goes and how many bends in the cable run) 2m is generally the max I’d go and even then I’d still use thermal backfill to stop the cables from getting so hot. Combine these issues with shit ground conditions and a water table higher than I am right now and you’re in for an expensive and time consuming time. Overhead cable has always been quicker to build / fix / maintain for most of human history but recent studies have shown they are actually quite bad for your health and end up being expensive in the long run with a relatively low service life compared to correctly built underground cable.
We have the ability now to bore banks of 10x200mm conduit / pilots over hundreds of metres, although we are limited by friction and bending it’s become a very effective way of cabling under rail and through shitty ground conditions.

Why don’t we move everyone from new orlands, to a government land, open a new city, and then make new orleans a government land, and make it just a park that nobody cares if it floods or not, because nobody lives there, because it’s a stupid idea to live there.

I live in houston and I can answer this. It’s really, really expensive, and companies don’t want to pay for it and legislatures aren’t going to force them to. That’s about the short of it.

For the longer answer, when maintance is required, that too becomes much more expensive, requiring crews to dig up yards, and possibly sections of streets, parkin lots, etc. It doesn’t matter how well it’s planned initially, people tear down houses and rebuild, empty lots with underground wires become buildings, all of that adds to the expense and difficulty maintance as well as added cost to the builder to bring the underground sections of wire above ground before entering a building or home.

Lastly, invarible, no matter how good the record keeping, eventually some sections will get “lost” or “misplaced.”

Sure, there are solutions to all of the specific problems I mentioned, but they all increase cost, significantly. Oh, one more thing I forgot to mention, the cost of transitioning through an infrastructure that’s already in place. NO is about 400 years old, it’s a dense city, the cost of tearing it up to move powrelines is astronomical. Rural or undeveloped areas can put in below ground power lines when they are first developed, but then you run into all of the problems mentioned above.