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Why aren’t Michigan power lines underground?

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(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

DETROIT – Power outages are an issue in Michigan, due to our many trees -- so why not bury them?


Every time there’s a power outage in Metro Detroit, people ask the question: Why not bury the power lines?

DTE Energy took on the question in their Empowering Michigan blog. Here’s some of what they said about why burying power lines might not be the best idea:

"While burying power lines may seem like a logical solution, the reality is putting lines underground (or “undergrounding” as they say in the business) isn’t the foolproof solution customers believe it to be. In addition, the process is very expensive, and in some cases, quite difficult.

Burying existing overhead power lines carries a hefty price tag – about six times the cost of installing overhead lines. Costs to bury the thousands of miles of overhead electrical lines in Michigan are estimated to be in the neighborhood of $25 to $30 billion – an expense that would have to be borne by all utility customers.

Additionally, relocating existing overhead lines underground would cause massive disruption to property. Burying lines in customers’ front and back yards would disrupt everything from existing trees and their root systems, to swimming pools and swing sets. Established structures such as sidewalks, street surfaces, curbs and driveways would also be affected."

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DTE Energy says they have been burying lines when possible with new subdivisions -- but at the expense of developers and without impact to existing power infrastructure.

Michigan Administrative Code 460.511 states a “real estate developer or customer shall make a contribution in aid of construction to the utility in an amount equal to the estimated difference in cost between overhead and underground facilities."

DTE also says underground lines require more maintenance, because lines are hidden from view - making problems harder to diagnose, and potentially taking longer to fix. Read more from DTE here.

Michigan is one of the worst states for power outages in the United States.

Read more: Michigan ranks among worst states for power outages


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