Sunday, February 1, 2009

Blog Backlog: A shout out to the frozen ones

[Looking for the home page of the Stephen Cobb Blog? Please click here.]

Author's note: I feel passionately about this topic, so the language below is a bit edgy. However, revisiting this page seven years later it strikes me that my anger is still justified. I still haven't heard a socially responsible reason for not putting power lines underground, where they belong. I first wrote this while living in a rural area, but vast swathes of urban and suburban America still rely on exposed power lines strung between poles. Later when we moved to San Diego I read about that city's plan to put all utility lines underground. Why don't more cities do this?

Anyway, here's what I wrote in the winter of oh nine: Did the blogosphere or the wider economy register a dip in activity last week due to people not blogging because the power was out due to freezing rain? (I suspect tweeting from smartphones picked up the slack for some, at least while the batteries lasted.)

One headline said a million homes were without power. That's sad. And it is tough for all affected. But what really struck me about last week was the UTTER STUPIDITY OF DOWNED POWER LINES.

A million homes without power? Come on America, we can do better than that. Scores of deaths due to mistakes with make-do heating arrangements? Why? Because collectively speaking our country is too greedy/dumb/short-sighted to bury the power lines.

I'm not saying I'm angry about this, but I'm about ready to slap the first person who says "It costs to much." Compared to WHAT? The lives lost? The money wasted? The huge cost of repairs? The lost votes of utility workers who will have to be retrained when we bury the lines?

And don't dare say "It can't be done." There are thousands of farms in North Dakota that never lose power in an ice storm. Why? Their lines were buried decades ago thanks to co-ops and the Rural Electrification Act (click that link and you can see FDR signing it).

Now is the time to tell non-cooperative utility companies to dig in or give in. Their right to run lines through our towns and villages can be revoked. There is no technical reason this cannot be done. Image what the news of the future could be:

"Worst ice storm in history, few lose power, no deaths reported, business as usual for most."

I don't presume to know exactly why the lines are not buried. Is it really because  line-persons have a strong lobby? What I do know is that whole swathes of commercial and residential development in Northern Virginia have zero overhead lines because of zoning. Having lived there for a while it was weird to hear the news reports of massive outages in neighboring areas due to wind or ice while our power flowed uninterrupted.

So, if you happen to know anyone in the new administration, please pass along the idea that life doesn't have to be this way, hanging by a thread that ice might break. Bury the lines and boost the economy while saving lives. What could be better than that.

Notes:

  • The recent power outages were the worst in Kentucky history. HughesNet has a NOC in Kentucky. Maybe that's why their DNS is foobar and my blog was blocked so I couldn't post this about 3 days ago.

  • The photo above is ice at the entrance to an ice cave in a glacier in Iceland. Why use that? We have no frozen power lines to photograph on our property--the man who built the place was smart, he buried them.

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