Submarines or Underground power?

“A major problem during storms is the damage to overhead lines caused by falling trees. The resultant chaos is not only irritating to householders and industry but also highly expensive to repair. The fragility of our distribution networks in the face of such forces is rarely recognised by householders, and it is only when a major disruption occurs that there is a renewed clamour for underground power.” – John McIlwraith from Science, Technology, Environment and Resources Group in Underground Power Cables: Costs and Benefits

According to the Federal government report Underground Power Cables: Costs and Benefits, Queensland has the lowest percentage (4.5%) of its power lines underground than any state in Australia. South Australia has the highest with 10% of its power lines underground.

One interesting quote from a Qld Executive interviewed for the report: (made) a wry comparison with the benefits of such a program (of putting power lines underground) compared with those of schemes which employ hundreds of people to improve parks and footpaths in Queensland – a commendably cosmetic goal, but perhaps one with less long-term impact than the introduction of underground power.”

Yesterday (1 Oct 2020) I received this in my fb newsfeed from my local councillor, Jonathan Sri.

One response to the aggrieved councillor was that power lines should be put underground. To this one commentator replied:

“Cost of running power underground is roughly 10x the cost of above ground due to digging trenches, access more difficult etc”

But what is the real cost in human lives of having power lines above our heads?

During a heavy storm power lines came down in our street in inner city Brisbane 8 kilometres from the CBD … I walked out onto the footpath only to find them live and sparking. I rang the local utility, ENERGEX, … sometime later two linesmen turned up saying there was little they could do as they were hard pressed with all the outages caused by the violent storm … plus they needed a different truck and crew to do the job safely.

I remonstrated with them in the pouring rain not to leave the live wires on the ground but all they left were two witches hats to mark the fallen power lines as unsafe.

Our street is a thoroughfare for people coming home from work and school. It is also a rat-run for cars trying to dodge the lights nearby. It took some hours for the lines to be de-activated.

Given a choice between building attack class submarines for the Navy (cost = $50 and the cost of running power underground throughout Australia (cost is the same), I know which one I would opt for.

Governments need to make a choice, wage earning taxpayers can’t afford both (attack class submarines and underground power lines).

This is a safety issue beyond simple cost accounting.

Ian Curr
1 Oct 2020

Underground Power Cables: Costs and Benefits by John McIlwraith from
Science, Technology, Environment and Resources Group

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