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Undergrounding – Part 2

image credit: John Benson
John Benson's picture
Senior Consultant, Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

  • Member since 2013
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  • Sep 9, 2021

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Being a utility professional I’ve always noted the design of the distribution system on my street (see the main image).

Yes we have power poles, but they perform multiple jobs, as can be see above:

  1. They carry our street lights.
  2. Near the top, they carry the medium-voltage circuit conductors that feed our neighborhood (note that there are just two-conductors).
  3. Note the pole in the distance has a more pronounced bulge on top than the one in the foreground, this is the distribution transformer that converts the medium voltage to low voltage (120/240 split phase).
  4. The pole then carries the LV to its underground path to the residences.

The problem: our neighborhood is about 55 years old – the underground LV cables are starting to fail. Thus PG&E’s Underground Contractor, (MGE Underground) has been busy in our neighborhood digging up our streets and sidewalks, and replacing underground cables. Since my office is in the front of the house, and views a major focus of this work, I got to see much of this process. Unfortunately we accidentally got involved in another way.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 9, 2021

It seems when people debate the underground or not debate, there are implicitly two debates:

1- what would we do if we were building a power grid and the community around it from scratch?

2- what should we do today knowing that we're not starting from scratch?


These are very different perspectives, and I think the points you bring up carry a lot of weigh in one and/or the other-- so thanks for the information!

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Sep 9, 2021

Thanks for the comment, Matt.

I'm very satisfied with the appearance of the  (or rather non-appearance) of the utilities on my street in Livermore. The poles would be there for streetlights even without them being used for MV.  Arnold uses conventional wooden poles for everything, but they largely disappear into the forest. Wildfire risk is another matter, and I understand it is real.


John Benson's picture
Thank John for the Post!
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