Could Burying Power Save More Homes, Lives from Wildfires?
Monday, July 25, 2022
Western states under extreme drought made worse by climate change are a giant tinderbox - and one expert says it's time to minimize possible fire sources by burying power lines.
Above-ground transmission lines have been mostly an eyesore, but as climate change has worsened the risk and devastation from wildfires, Engineering Consultant with Resilient Analytics Paul Chinowsky said power lines should never be the possible source.
He said vegetation or heavy winds can cause lines to touch each other and create a spark.
"You've got equipment that really wasn't designed to handle the extreme temperatures and environmental conditions we have today," said Chinowsky.
Chinosky said the major hurdle is cost - estimated at $4 million or more for each mile of "undergrounding."
California's Pacific Gas & Electric utility recently agreed to pay more than $55 million dollars to avoid criminal prosecution for that state's 2021 Dixie wildfire sparked by aging power lines.
PG&E also has announced a multibillion-dollar effort to bury 10,000 miles of power lines.
Chinowsky said he believes the adversarial relationship that sometimes develops between local governments and their utility company needs to change. He said more cooperation is necessary to ease what would likely be higher rates for customers.
"Because this change is going to save homes," said Chinowsky. "It's going to save property. If we don't change it, we're never going to get it done and we're just going to keep reliving these very destructive wildfires."
Wildfires are now more frequent and intense and fire seasons last longer. That has led some building homes or structures near or within Western forests to use fire-resistant materials.
But Chinosky said the "new normal" is here to stay, and reducing risk is key.
"We'll always have some risk," said Chinowsky. "You can't eliminate all risk. You're not going to eliminate lightning strikes. But if we can eliminate risks that we have control over, it's going to save a lot of people a lot of unhappy times."
New Mexico's recent fire - the largest in the state's history - was not caused by above-ground power lines, but rather ignited by U.S. Forest Service workers using drip torches during a prescribed burn to thin dense woodlands.
get more stories like this via email
By Tom Perkins for Planet Detroit.Broadcast version by Mark Richardson for Michigan News Connection with support from the Solutions Journalism Network…
By Jared Brey for Governing.Broadcast version by Deborah Van Fleet for Missouri News Service reporting for the Solutions Journalism Network-Public New…
South Dakota is once again locked in a debate over a bill concerning transgender youth. It seeks to ban gender-affirming care, with supporters …
While the Pennsylvania House is still out of session and won't resume until late February, the public and advocacy groups are voicing their concerns…
Better health and educational outcomes are being touted as the potential benefits as Minnesota lawmakers discuss whether to provide free school meals …
While controversy rages on about the College Board's Advanced Placement African American Studies course, Black students in a new survey say they want …
For more than two decades, a workforce development program in El Paso has invested in the economically disadvantaged to help them attain the …
Health and Wellness
Nebraska's long-term care facilities face staffing shortages and other factors that could lead to more closures if state funding isn't increased…