KTRH Local Houston and Texas News

KTRH Local Houston and Texas News

KTRH-AM covering local news from Houston and across Texas.


Underground power line idea in Houston verges into the unfeasible

Houston has seen a chaotic spring full of severe thunderstorms. May 16th provided the city with a 'mini hurricane,' otherwise known as a derecho, which caused widespread damage, at least eight deaths, and maybe most impactful, it knocked out power to almost one million people. That was followed up with yet another big storm this week, which knocked out power to almost 400,000 people.

In the wake of these vicious storms, people have begun questioning everything. Form CenterPoint Energy itself to the aging infrastructure of our power setup. Many have floated the idea of putting out power lines underground. After all, we are a city in 'Hurricane Alley' that has not seen a direct hit in at least 16 years. We are due for one, and a hurricane on an already ailing system would cause widespread outages, maybe for months.

The idea of underground lines comes from people having seen them in various area of Dallas, who see their fair share of tornadoes and severe storms. So, why not in Houston?

Texas A&M professor of electrical engineering Don Russell says it is only a few neighborhoods in Dallas with this setup, and most of their lines remain above ground. The idea of putting existing infrastructure below ground too has a laundry list of roadblocks.

"In developed areas, it is very difficult...you have to avoid existing utilities underground...plus, you are tearing down perfectly good lines to put them underground, so there is an additional cost to that," he says.

As we know in Texas, a big project like that would not take a matter of months, it would take years, and perhaps multiple decades to do. Especially considering the amount of area it would need to be done.

But beyond that, the cost is what really makes it an impractical idea. In California, a state prone to wildfires, they are putting some lines underground in those areas. The cost of doing that so far is totaling around $2 million per mile. That is right, $2 million per mile.

In Texas, the second biggest state in the country, it would be astronomical.

"Anything like this in Texas would cost into the tens of billions of dollars, that is billion with a 'B,'" he says.

Amid the array of problems as well is flooding, which as you know, we are no stranger to here in Houston.

"For underground lines...we used ground transformers...if you have a lot of flooding or hurricanes, and salt water or something gets in...then you have some real problems," he says.

So, until someone decides to donate $50 billion, or we build Houston in a new spot, the above ground lines are here to stay.

High Voltage Electric Power Lines At Sunset

Photo: imaginima / iStock / Getty Images

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