Houston faces hurdles in transitioning to underground power lines amid severe weather concerns

(UI) — Houston has been battered by severe thunderstorms this spring, including a derecho on May 16 that wreaked havoc, causing extensive damage and cutting power to nearly a million residents. Another major storm this week left almost 400,000 without electricity, prompting a reevaluation of the city’s power infrastructure, NewsRadio 740 KTRH reported.

Amid growing concerns about the reliability of Houston's aging power grid, discussions have emerged about the feasibility of relocating power lines underground. Given Houston's vulnerability to hurricanes, such a move could theoretically reduce the risk of prolonged outages. However, this concept faces significant obstacles.

Dallas, where some neighborhoods have underground power lines to combat severe weather, serves as an inspiration. Yet, as Don Russell, an electrical engineering professor at Texas A&M told NewsRadio 740 KTRH that only a small portion of Dallas has this setup; most power lines remain above ground.

According to KTRH, Russell said that the transition to underground lines is complicated by several factors. In developed areas, existing utilities hinder new installations, and dismantling working above-ground lines adds to the cost.

The project would require substantial time, potentially spanning years or even decades due to the vast area that needs coverage. Financially, the undertaking is daunting. For instance, burying power lines in California, where wildfires are a threat, costs around $2 million per mile. In a large state like Texas, the expense would be overwhelming.

"Anything like this in Texas would cost into the tens of billions of dollars, that is billion with a 'B’," Russell told KTRH.

Furthermore, Houston's susceptibility to flooding presents additional challenges. Underground systems use ground transformers, which are prone to damage from water ingress during floods or hurricanes.

In summary, without a massive financial investment—estimated around $50 billion—or a complete overhaul of the city's infrastructure, Houston is likely to retain its above-ground power lines.

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