Monday, October 31, 2011

North Jersey Still Suffering From Widespread Power Outages

For a second straight day, Northern New Jersey is without power across much of the region following the deadly nor'easter that left snows of nearly two feet in some places, but the lasting effects are the thousands of trees that were downed or damaged as a result of the heavy snow combined with leaves till being on the trees.

That's a recipe for disaster - taking out power line after power line. The nasty weather and snow further hampers the efforts to restore power since power lines block roads that have to be plowed so that crews can get to where they have to repair lines. You had to clear lines so that the plows could get through. It was the proverbial chicken or egg problem for some parts of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachussetts (which saw some areas get 2+ feet of snow) and the Hudson River Valley in New York.

As with the recover from Hurricanes Irene and Lee, people are wondering why utilities aren't being forced to locate utilities underground, where they wouldn't succumb to weather events like this every time the wind blows.

It's a good question and states and localities have a patchwork of rules regarding utility hookups.

Some require that new developments place utilities underground at the developers' expense. Others have no requirements.

It all comes down to cost.

Placing the lines underground may be more costly at the outset - 8-10 times more expensive than running lines on utility poles. Those are costs that are passed on to utility consumers. The underground lines are also potentially more expensive to replace as their life expectancy isn't nearly as long as overhead lines under normal conditions. Also, power restoration after floods are extremely troublesome for underground lines. Whereas a flood event may leave the overhead lines undisturbed, a flood for underground utilities may requires days or weeks of work to restore power.

Thus, it's a balancing act as to whether a given area would benefit from overhead or underground lines.

However, with the recurrence of major outages in the area, it's time that the utilities reconsider the overhead lines in troublesome areas.

Moreover, all the utilities should look towards ramping up their tree maintenance programs to prune back trees in and along their rights of way to prevent downed trees taking out entire towns and communities.

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