Health

City Says Burying Utility Lines Could Prevent Power Outages

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Road crews and utility workers continue to clear trees and fallen wires as the region once again digs out after another big storm, which knocked out power to tens of thousands.

As the storms continue to roll in, can anything be done to prevent these outages?

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As of Thursday evening, about 1,200 customers are without power as fallen trees once again wrought havoc on overhead utility lines. The city says it’s time to put those wires underground.

In the wake of these severe storms, Duquesne Light work crews have again fanned out across the region to clear away limbs, fix the lines and restore power. But the city has seen this all too often.

“Trees and power lines don’t mix. Climate change and the lack of federal funding in infrastructure and resilience is really what doesn’t mix,” said Deputy Mayor Dan Gilman.

Some 32,000 Duquesne Light customers lost power in the latest storm as winds and rains took down mighty trees and power lines along with them.

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Deputy Mayor Dan Gilman says the lines should have been put underground decades ago, but the country has lacked the will to do it. Now, he says with global warming, these storms are coming more frequently and the damage is getting worse.

“No, American, no Pittsburgher wants to hear these are 100-year storms or 50-year storms when they’re happening every 35 days, but we have not invested as a country whether it’s landslides, whether it’s burying utility lines, whether it’s building out the infrastructure and backbone of our country,” said Gilman.

For its part, Duquesne Light has no broad program to put the wires underground, saying, “Our region’s unique topography makes it difficult to fully transition to underground infrastructure, which also comes with various challenges that make repairs more complex.”

Instead, the company says it will continue to focus on vegetation management, pruning trees and the like. But to put utility lines underground would cost billions in the city alone — not a cost the company could easily pass along to its ratepayers.

“This isn’t something one company can take on. This has to be a national priority across the United States,” said Gilman.

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As the Peduto administration plays out its final year, Gilman is calling for the passage of a very large infrastructure bill to address things like overhead power lines. The size of that bill is the subject of hot debate in Congress.

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