This is Why Oklahoma Power Lines Aren’t Buried Underground
As parts of Oklahoma start to recover from the incredibly severe start to June, the number one question on most people's minds is "Why doesn't Oklahoma bury the power lines underground?"
After cleaning out a freezer of spoiled food, that's a fair question.
Growing up in an oil-industry family, I've lived in a lot of places. In all my life, Oklahoma is the only state I've lived in where the electricity has gone out for days or weeks on end and it's all due to the same thing. The weather.
We live in a climate between cold and hot, meaning it's both extremely cold and extremely hot here depending on the time of year. Oklahoma is at its greatest risk of power grid failure during the winter time when the atmosphere is just warm enough to melt snow into ice as it falls.
Ice accumulates on power lines, the weight is too much to bear, poles and lines snap and it's up to our linemen to restore service. While extended outages are rare, I can think of a handful of times the house went dark for weeks over the last twenty years.
Spring is the other dangerous time for power lines in the Sooner State. We just experienced a major hail and wind storm in Lawton, the power was out for days. Parts of Tulsa are still without power over a week later than their last severe weather.
Why are we still hanging power lines where Mother Nature can disrupt service?
Money. It's always money.
The State of Oklahoma did a study back in 2008 that came to the conclusion that the cost of moving utilities underground would be far more than just constantly repairing the infrastructure we've spent the last 100 years building.
It's worth mentioning that Oklahoma utility companies have been burying new service lines since the trend reached the Sooner State in the 1970s, but this applies mostly to the places that are and have been expanding since then. OKC, Tulsa, and metro areas surrounding our two big cities.
What can we do to encourage a full rebuild of our energy infrastructure?
The answer is much simpler than you'd expect. The utility companies are all on board to bury our electric service in the state, but the biggest hurdle remains, who is going to pay for it?
That 2008 study determined it would cost about $58billion to accomplish this task across the state. That's $837,000 per square mile if you want to do the math, keeping in mind these are dollar values of fifteen years ago.
If Oklahoma residents are willing to pay the additional $250-ish per month for the next thirty years, I'm sure the utility companies would be willing to go to work on it... but the overwhelming majority of Oklahomans cannot afford that kind of financial commitment.
A penny saved is a penny earned.
Naturally, if the power companies didn't have the big outages each year due to the weather, the savings they'd experience would eventually pay for the underground service, right?
Absolutely, but as any Oklahoman that lived through the arctic blast winter storm of 2021 knows, utility providers aren't expected to pay for anything. They're just the middlemen that collect money, they don't spend it.
The middle ground.
Since we'll never likely see the Oklahoma power grid buried underground, and the weather will likely never be ideal year-round, the middle ground is put back onto the resilient Oklahoma residents.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission recommends investing in a generator or battery backup for your home when the power does eventually go out.