Pepco Studies Undergrounding Utility Lines

Debate over effectiveness in preventing outages

In the wake of the derecho that knocked out power to some area residents for up to a week, Pepco is looking at ways to move utility lines underground, but some are skeptical about whether or not that will actually help prevent future widespread outages.

The derecho exposed Pepco’s vulnerability to trees. With its request for a rate increase pending, Pepco informed the Maryland Public Service Commission that it is conducting a study of undergrounding some or all of its lines.

Power was knocked out for a week in the Wildwood Manor neighborhood. Two trees tore down Pepco lines snapping three utility poles. Debris still litters the ground. Pepco put in a new pole but left the remnants of the old one standing.

"It's nice to bury the lines,” Bethesda resident Charlie Ilgenfritz said. “It’s going to be awfully expensive. I've heard different stories about whether it really solves anything anyway."

In a neighborhood where all the utility lines are underground, power was still knocked out for five days because a feeder line was torn down in the next block, where the lines are aboveground.

"Burying part of the neighborhood is fine, but i think in order to provide for continuity you'd have to have lines buried from the power source to the neighborhood," Bethesda resident Frank Curto said.

Along busy Old Georgetown Road, an old elm tree toppled over power lines in the storm -- a situation that still exists but wouldn’t if there was undergrounding.

“If the lines were underground -- and this is a feeder line, what Pepco calls a major line -- if this were underground, it would be certainly not threatening the trees or the public and providing better service,” Bethesda resident Richard Hoye said.

Pepco said its study will allow the company, its customers, the Public Service Commission and policy makers to make informed decisions about undergrounding electric infrastructure.

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