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Guest column: Storm warning: Time to bury all power lines
by Robert Meredith
Guest Columnist
February 20, 2014 01:10 PM | 5896 views | 1 1 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Robert Meredith
Robert Meredith
As this was written on Thursday, 145,000 homes and businesses in Georgia were without power and 720,000 outages were spread over 15 states. Repair crews were rushing in from neighboring states to repair the damage.

It has happened before and it will happen again. Winter blackouts, some lasting 10 days or more, have been a fact of life for as long as I can remember: pipes freezing, stores and businesses closed and people dying because they set their homes on fire trying to keep warm.

This is not an act of God; it is the result of a rational business decision. Someone in management has crunched the numbers and made the decision that is more cost-effective to send in crews to repair the power lines than it is to correct the problem. You the customer do not fit into this calculation. Your inconvenience does not matter. In the quest for corporate profit, the bottom line is the bottom line.

The fact is that we live in a 21st-century world supported by a 20th-century infrastructure. Look up. Look around you at this unsightly tangled mess.

In 1994 I painted a series of 30 paintings of Kennesaw Mountain from 30 different locations around Cobb County. There was only one location where I could see the mountain unobstructed by power lines.

It is worse today. Our high-tech world of high-speed computers, wireless communication and online banking is supported by a tangle of wires looping along every road and drooping across every street. All it takes to shut off your power is for one tree to fall across a wire or for someone’s kid to wrap his family sedan around a utility pole.

Weather-related blackouts could be eliminated forever by simply burying power lines. Water lines are buried. Gas lines are buried. Sewer lines are buried and in upscale subdivisions power lines are buried. There is no logical reason why most power lines should not be buried.

We the people, the customer, have no say in the matter. The utilities have lobbyists to ensure things remain the same and the lobbyists have the ears of our legislators. The Public Service Commission seems to be only interested in overseeing utility rates. All it would take is a regulation mandating that any repair, addition or upgrade of the existing system require that line be buried.

In other words, if the line to your house is knocked down by a storm or changed for any reason, that line would have to be buried. That would result in the most vulnerable parts of the grid being fixed first and the entire grid being gradually updated over a period of years.

Our society is now too dependent on consistent electrical power to be at the mercy of the next storm or the next earnings report. Everything runs on electricity, and when electricity fails the world stops. No corporation is going to work against what it considers its own best interests.

This is a problem that will require government regulation and oversight. There are those who believe government has no business regulating business. Try sitting for a week in a cold dark house with your food rotting in the freezer; with no TV, cell service or computer; no restaurants, service stations, banks or grocery stores just because a few trees fell across some power lines, like I did during Hurricane Sandy and as many of you did this week, then tell me how you feel.

This is a liability that threatens us all and it can and must be corrected. It has happened before, it will happen again and with climate change it will only get worse. Bury the lines.

Robert Meredith of Cobb County is an artist.

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