Undergrounding: “Fort Myers Beach raise questions about the future of infrastructure”

Undergrounding: “Fort Myers Beach raise questions about the future of infrastructure”

Photo: NBC-2.com

“…The underground cables have been a concept brought to NBC2 since 2013. Now ten years and a Category 4 hurricane later, a FPL ‘Storm Secure’ sign is posted on the corner of Estero Blvd and Carolina Ave.

‘I know other communities have done it and had some success with it,’ said Jason Cantrell, Fort Myers Beach resident.

Cantrell lives down the street from the sign. He said it brings him hope after he came back to Estero Island to 13 feet of water damage.

‘There was no power when we got here. Everything had been ripped off from the house, so there wasn’t even connection to the house,’ he said.

Cantrell claimed FPL was ready to respond, but first, he had to bring in an electrician.

‘To have those underground and not have to worry about the wind damage would certainly speed recovery up and allow people to get back quicker,’ he said.

Underground power lines are great against wind damage, but it’s no silver bullet. Ian proved that. About 25% of LCEC lines are underground. On Sanibel, a storm surge washed away some of the transformers.

NBC2 asked FPL why the sign is posted and when underground power lines could come to the area. FPL said it does not have any current Undergrounding projects on Fort Myers Beach…”

— Jennifer Kveglis, NBC-2.com

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“Distribution Goal: 50% Underground by 2040”

“Distribution Goal: 50% Underground by 2040”

Photo: In T & D World

“As ambitious goals are set for clean electricity, the same must be done for the distribution grid that delivers the electricity.

Goals have been set for renewables, net-zero and carbon-free energy. These resource-related goals and the U.S. vision for electrification will require a 21st century distribution grid that is reliable, resilient and still affordable. Will it be the distribution grid of our grandparents? Absolutely not.

The electric distribution grid of the future will be a modern, integrated grid that accommodates distributed energy resources like rooftop solar, fuel cells, storage and vehicle-to-grid electric vehicles. This increasingly complex grid that delivers the clean electricity needed for the future must be fundamentally transformed into a new and dynamic technological wonder.

Underground electric distribution lines will be an important part of this transformation. Therefore, as ambitious goals are set for clean electricity, the same must be done for the distribution grid that delivers the electricity. [Editor’s note: this article was written in first person by Mike Beehler, credited as usual below]  I submit that we need to achieve 50% underground by 2040.

Where We Stand

The electric distribution system in America today is approximately 20% underground. Some public power utilities — like Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Anaheim, California — have had underground ordinances for years. They have beautified their cities and improved the performance of their systems. Fort Collins is 99% underground and 99.9% reliable. Colorado Springs started in the 1970s and is 77% underground today with 99.9% reliability. The public power utility estimates its entire system can be underground with another US$2.2 billion investment.

Anaheim has been engaged in its Home Underground (HUG) program since 1990, with excellent results. The phone and cable TV utilities in Anaheim paid to go underground, as well.

For years, investor-owned utilities (IOUs) have put new neighborhoods underground. Now, many large IOUs — like Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL), WEC Energy Group and Dominion Energy — are engaged in multiyear, multibillion-dollar programs to strategically underground laterals and other key parts of their systems.

PG&E’s Strategy

PG&E will spend US$ 15 billion to US$ 30 billion to underground the first 10% of its system. The utility plans to have 3600 miles (5794 km) of line placed underground by 2026, bringing it one-third of the way to its 10,000-mile (16,093-km) goal. CEO Patti Poppe has said PG&E is being rebuilt from the ‘underground up…’

FPL’s Focus

FPL will ramp up in 2025 to $1 billion per year spend on converting overhead laterals to underground. Its three-year Storm Secure pilot program was so successful in terms of system resiliency and customer acceptance the Florida Public Service Commission is allowing Duke Energy Corp. and Tampa Electric (TECO) to implement similar undergrounding programs.

‘After the historic hurricane seasons of 2004-05, when seven hurricanes affected our customers, FPL began making significant investments to strengthen our electric system and make the grid more resilient to severe weather,’ according to the FPL website. ‘When Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, our hardening efforts helped significantly reduce damage to the grid and speed restoration for our customers. Still, we saw that the No. 1 cause of outages during Irma was debris blowing into and trees falling onto our power lines.’

WEC’s Way Forward

WEC Energy Group’s Wisconsin Public Service has undergrounded 2000 miles (3219 km) of overhead lines in the last eight years, increasing its percent underground from 27% to 39%, with very high customer satisfaction and customer willingness to pay for the underground. This success will carry over to WEC Energy’s other companies as part of its progressive Delivering the Future initiative.

Paul Gogan, director of electric distribution asset management for WEC Energy Group, said, ‘The underground projects have been a game-changer for WEC Energy Group. They have exceeded expectations, improved reliability and increased customer satisfaction. The projects have resulted in more than a 97% reduction in electric outage minutes in those areas where overhead lines have been replaced with underground circuits…’

Dominion’s Outreach

Dominion Energy started its strategic undergrounding program almost 10 years ago. Today, it has achieved better system resiliency supported by empirical data. The utility often shares its lessons learned and best practices, especially when it comes to customer involvement and satisfaction…

Defining Reliability

These utilities are starting to understand the total value of underground over the life of the asset. The data used to understand total value includes capital costs, reduced operations and maintenance (O&M) cost, lost local GDP, and safety exposure, customer satisfaction, reliability measured in minutes and resiliency measured by total time of line restoration.

Resiliency is defined as the ability to withstand a high-impact, low-probability (HILP) event with little or no customer outages. Like reliability, there is value in resiliency. Planners and engineers must do the total cost of ownership analysis and quantify the value of resiliency when possible. It is their responsibility to make prudent system evaluations that support fundamental business decisions for utility executives, regulators and, ultimately, customers. Increasingly, they are doing just that.

However, not everyone is an early adopter or fast follower. Tucson Electric Power (TEP), Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO) and Puget Sound Energy (PSE) want to build controversial overhead power lines in scenic communities with neighbors that do not want the large poles.

TEP’s Overhead Pushback Citizens question TEP’s cost estimates for undergrounding a 7-mile (11-km) 138 kV line, citing examples that cost as little as half of the utility’s approximately $13 million per mile, or $90 million, estimate. Citizens also question ‘TEP’s assertion is that maintenance costs of underground lines would be much higher than overhead lines,” according to Tucson Electric Overhead Power Line Plan Runs Afoul of Neighbors, City, an article published in March 2022 by the Arizona Daily Star on Tucson.com.

Property values are an issue for citizens, as well. According to the article, TEP admits the studies it reviewed indicate that ‘…though short-term impacts to property values can occur, long-term property values are not greatly affected by transmission lines.’

The article also states that TEP suggested the city consider forming an underground taxing district to have affected property owners pay for the undergrounding. ‘That’s asking people TEP is damaging to pay for TEP not damaging them,’ said one citizen quoted in the article…

HECO’s Estimate

Should 46 kV in a beautiful new master planned community in paradise be underground or overhead? According to HECO, the cost to install overhead power lines would be US$ 6.7 million while undergrounding would cost $25 million. However, that is its estimate of capital cost. Some questions must be asked about the estimate:

What is the total cost of ownership of these overhead lines compared to underground lines for the life of the asset? How much will vegetation management and tree-related outages really cost 20 years from now? What is the cost to utility and customer safety? What is the gross domestic product cost of an outage for small businesses?

PSE’s 10-Year Request

Puget Sound Energy (PSE) issued the first project-need report for its Energy East transmission upgrade project in February 2012. Today, more than 10 years later, PSE is one permit away from getting approval to build a 230-kV line in place of the existing 115-kV line. However, is the need the same? Do better alternatives exist now, 10 years later? Did anyone evaluate the lost goodwill and reputation of a utility that battles its customers for 10 years?…

Time Will Tell

There must be a better way to build electric infrastructure in communities. What is the customer cost in lost local gross domestic product of an outage? What will the cost of tree trimming be in 5 and 10 years from now? How can truck rolls be reduced and environment, social and governance (ESG) improved? How can worker and public safety be improved? How can the streetscape be beautified and the quality of life of customers improved? What can be a new and positive part of improved customer service? Electric utilities are asking these questions and, increasingly, the answer is underground.

As demonstrated, some utilities are leading the industry — like public power underground advocates in Anaheim, Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs as well as IOUs like PG&E, Dominion Energy, WEC Energy and FPL — with customer-focused, progressive ideas for planning, design and construction of large underground programs. Some utilities choose not to lead, but their time will come.

So, is 50% underground by 2040 an unreasonable goal? Of course not. In fact, it might be too low. Are the goals for renewables, net zero and carbon free energy unreasonable? Again, no, but the nation will need a state-of-the art electric T&D grid to support the ambitious clean resource goals of the future.

Will the electric utility industry drive real cost out of O&M? Will the industry specify an underground grid with better equipment, cables, splices and terminations? Will the latest construction methods and technologies be embraced? Will we use factory-comparable field-quality control tests and underground-line-sensing technology married with artificial intelligence to verify systems are installed correctly, according to their cable specifications? Will 50% be transformational or would more like 75% underground be needed to achieve our electrification, reliability and resiliency goals and significantly impact shareholder and customer value?

These issues will be addressed in the year to come. The industry needs to have a debate. Will 50% underground by 2040 be enough? Will electric utility stakeholders agree? Time will tell.”

— Mike Beehler, T & D World

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“Highway study calls for underground power lines”

“Highway study calls for underground power lines”

Photo: T & D World Article about WEC Energy Group’s Zoo Interchange Project

“Higher efficiency plus broadband without unsightly towers

Major highways connecting cities across the country could someday be used to deliver green energy and high-speed internet service.

Wisconsin already has the ‘playbook’ to make it happen, says a new study by the Wisconsin Technology Center that calls for the use of underground high-voltage power lines and broad-band cable along highway rights of way.

Underground power systems, aimed at delivering wind-generated electricity from rural areas to cities, could address several problems, said WTC President, Tom Still.

First, the buried lines would draw fewer objections from property owners facing the prospect of above ground towers and wires running across their land.

Second, the lines would be less vulnerable to storms, and even terrorist attacks that could cause widespread power outages.

Third, fiber internet cable could be bundled in the same trenches as the power lines to deliver internet service to rural areas.

The US electric grid is a complex web of power lines reaching nearly everywhere. It has been largely based on alternating current (AC) technology that for decades has proven safe and reliable.

‘However, the AC power lines that criss-cross the nation are tangled and ill-suited to quicky move large amounts of renewable power from energy-producing regions with low demand, such as the Midwest and Southwest, to large population centers’, says the Federation of American Scientists.

A better choice would be high-voltage direct current (HVDC) systems that lose less power over long distances. Those systems would also support along-the-road charging of electric vehicles and advanced communications needed for autonomous vehicles.

One of the first underground HVDC systems has been planned for railroad rights-of-way from Mason City, Iowa, to the Chicago area.”

— This article by Charlie Mitchell is excerpts from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article by Rick Barrett

Read entire article at Scenic Wisconsin 

Additional Article about a Non-Traditional Undergrounding Project

Utility Storm Hardening – “FPL removes last 2 wooden transmission poles in Palm Beach County”

Utility Storm Hardening – “FPL removes last 2 wooden transmission poles in Palm Beach County”

Video: WPTV
” …A historic moment for Palm Beach County on Wednesday. The last two wooden transmission poles in the county are now gone, a sign the county is more prepared for the next storm.

‘Wonderful, that’s wonderful,’ FPL customer John Winfree said…

‘We were out of power for 18 days at one point about 10 to 12 years ago,’ Winfree said. FPL said this shouldn’t happen again by replacing the last two wooden poles with new concrete and underground ones.

‘Hardened poles perform significantly better than wooden poles. They can withstand stronger winds, which helps improve reliability,’ FPL spokesman Conlan Kennedy said…

‘You’ve got the waterway here, as well as the waterway running on this side. So there’s water all over this area. So, of course, we always think about the ability for this to flood,’ Egizio said. poles in Palm Beach County

But FPL’s wiring is not only 80 feet underground, it’s also storm-proof.

‘The lines are protected with an extra layer, so flooding is not a concern for this,’ Kennedy said.

So as this last pole comes off, homeowners like John and Jeff hope this is a sign of promise, knowing it’s not if the next storm hits, but when…”

— Briana Nespral, WPTV

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Underground works! – “One Florida community built to weather hurricanes endured Ian with barely a scratch”

Underground works! – “One Florida community built to weather hurricanes endured Ian with barely a scratch”

Photo: Carlos Osorio for NPR

“Babcock Ranch, in Florida, runs on solar power and was built to weather the worst storms. After Hurricane Ian, the community didn’t lose power or water, and it experienced minimal damage.

Like many others in Southwest Florida, Mark Wilkerson seemingly gambled his life by choosing to shelter at home rather than evacuate when Hurricane Ian crashed ashore last week as a Category 4 storm.

But it wasn’t just luck that saved Wilkerson and his wife, Rhonda, or prevented damage to their well-appointed one-story house. You might say that it was all by design.

In 2018, Wilkerson became one of the first 100 residents of Babcock Ranch — an innovative community north of Fort Myers where homes are built to withstand the worst that Mother Nature can throw at them without being flooded out or losing electricity, water or the internet.

The community is located 30 miles inland to avoid coastal storm surges. Power lines to homes are all run underground, where they are shielded from high winds. Giant retaining ponds surround the development to protect houses from flooding. As a backup, streets are designed to absorb floodwaters and spare the houses…

So when the storm hit, Wilkerson and his wife stayed put, as did most other residents here. Although the community didn’t experience the hurricane at its most intense, Wilkerson says they felt 100-mph winds. At one point, the lights in his house flickered but ‘lo and behold, we never lost power.’

In fact, his house didn’t even lose a shingle. That’s the basic story of Babcock Ranch, post-Ian: Aside from a traffic light at the development’s main entrance that’s no longer there, a few street signs lying on the ground and some knocked-over palm trees, you’d hardly know that a hurricane came through.

Unfortunately, not so for many of the surrounding communities, where damaged structures and power outages have not been uncommon…

Their good fortune pays dividends for others in need Admittedly, Babcock Ranch has a slightly insular feel to it. But partly because residents were spared the full wrath of the hurricane, they have been able to reach out and help those in need.

A community center here was designed to double as a reinforced storm shelter. Everyone staying there right now has come in from other hard-hit communities. Babcock Ranch residents have been fielding requests on social media and shuttling in supplies…

Hurricane Ian was a big test for this community, where houses start at around $250,000. Languell says the storm provided ‘proof of concept’ for the community’s design. The developers of Babcock Ranch welcome imitators, she adds. Communities elsewhere in the U.S. might benefit from what has been learned here.

But there’s still more to learn, Languell says.

‘We don’t want to brag by any stretch of the imagination, because you do that, and the next thing you know, you get hit by a Category 5 and something doesn’t work as well,’ she says.”

— Carlos Osorio for NPR with Scott Neuman, On All Things Considered

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“Florida to harden electric grid statewide in wake of Hurricane Ian”

“Florida to harden electric grid statewide in wake of Hurricane Ian”

Photo: News Service of Florida seen in clickorlando.com

“Less than a week after Hurricane Ian knocked out power to large swaths of Florida, state regulators Tuesday approved utilities’ long-term plans to try to bolster the electric system.

The state Public Service Commission approved, with some changes, plans submitted by Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co. and Florida Public Utilities Co. The plans detail a wide range of projects, including increasing the number of underground power lines…

State Rep. Randy Fine announced Thursday that more than 100,000 people in Brevard County lost power during Hurricane Ian’s trek across Central Florida. As the commission Tuesday took up what are known as ‘storm protection plans,’ Commissioner Gary Clark described the situation as a ‘balance.’

‘We are never going to build a system that is storm-proof. It’s not possible,’ Clark said.

Commissioner Gabriella Passidomo also raised concerns about costs and benefits, saying that ‘maybe we need to just temper our pace a little bit in these investments and reassess over time about how effective they are in certain areas. Because, as we have seen, every storm is very different.’

Utilities filed the proposals in the spring, but Tuesday’s commission votes came as crews continued to work on restoring power after Hurricane Ian slammed the Southwest Florida coast Wednesday and continued across the state… As an example of the money involved, FPL’s proposal included more than $4.67 billion in costs over the next three years, according to a commission staff recommendation. That was before Tuesday’s changes, which would at least slightly reduce the amount.

In its proposal, FPL said the projects would largely continue efforts started under a plan approved in 2020 by the commission.

‘The existing hardening and storm preparedness programs have already demonstrated that they have and will continue to increase T&D (transmission and distribution) infrastructure resiliency, reduce restoration times, and reduce restoration costs when FPL’s system is impacted by extreme weather events,’ the proposal, filed in April, said.”

— Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida in clickorlando.com

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