Part of Grid Network »

The Transmission Professionals special interest group covers the distribution of power from generation to final destination. 


Uproar over overground lines in the Land Down Under

image credit: Photo 24650084 / Energy © Huating |
Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner , Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

  • Member since 2018
  • 839 items added with 395,150 views
  • Sep 13, 2023

Do you remember Australia’s apocalyptic 2019-2020 bushfires? I must admit I’d forgotten about them. COVID-19 popped off right after the fires peaked in January 2020 and turned arguably the biggest ecological disaster story of the decade into an afterthought. Anyway, the fires were really, really bad. Here’s a Wikipedia paragraph describing the destruction: 

“The fires burnt an estimated 24.3 million hectares (243,000 square kilometres),[b][1] destroyed over 3,000 buildings (including 2,779 homes),[18] and killed at least 34 people.[19][20][21][22][23][c] It was claimed that three billion terrestrial vertebrates – the vast majority being reptiles – were affected and some endangered species were believed to be driven to extinction.[24] The cost of dealing with the bushfires was expected to exceed the A$4.4 billion of the 2009 Black Saturday fires,[25] and tourism sector revenues fell by more than A$1 billion.[26] Economists estimated the bushfires – Australia's costliest natural disaster in history – may have cost over A$78–88 billion in property damage and economic losses.[27] Nearly 80% of Australians were affected by the bushfires in some way.[28] At its peak, air quality dropped to hazardous levels in all southern and eastern states,[29] and smoke had been moving upwards of 11,000 kilometres (6,800 mi) across the South Pacific Ocean, impacting weather conditions in other continents.[30][31] Satellite data estimated the carbon emissions from the fires to be around 715 million tons,[32][33] surpassing Australia's normal annual bushfire and fossil fuel emissions by around 80%.[34][35][36]

Now, amidst a big, nationwide transmission buildout, the memory of the 2019-2020 fires has many pressing for underground lines. It’s a tricky proposition, though. Not only are underground transmission lines much more expensive, they also add years onto projects—and Australia needs transmission now. 

Here’s a story about how the debate is playing out with a project around the capital. Basically, this HumeLink transmission project is going to connect hydro power to Sydney by 2026 at the cost of 4.9 billion australian dollars. However, that’s if the government’s decision to do the thing is above ground, as the government decided. There is set to be a parliamentary probe into the decision. Proponents of the probe say the overhead lines are too vulnerable to fires and other natural disasters. Its opponents say undergrounding will add 5 years onto the project and cost much more. 

These debates aren’t unique to Australia, however. And if this summer was any indication, they’ll soon be had throughout the world. In the American context, fire-prone areas are dealing with the same set of issues: How do you rapidly build out transmission infrastructure to facilitate renewables while mitigating fire risks? And how do you pay for it?

Nowhere is burying the grid as important as in California. After about half a decade of historic wildfires linked to their negligence, In 2022, The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) revealed details about their push to bury the California grid. According to Bloomberg, the power company wants to put 3,600 miles of transmission lines underground over the next five years. Moreover, the utility is aiming to cut the cost per mile from $3.75 million to $2.5 million in 2026. The 3,600 miles of proposed line are part of a larger effort to bury 10,000 miles of lines by a later date. 

If coming up with the money wasn’t hard enough, now criticism is emerging that says the current payment plan is inequitable. As it’s explained in a recent Nature Energy study, the current undergrounding plan leads to poor communities paying more than affluent ones to bury power lines. 

As the utilities learn to cope with new 21st century challenges, from more destructive wildfires to cyber security risks, there are bound to be many growing pains. These recent controversies over undergrounding are evidence of that.



No discussions yet. Start a discussion below.

Henry Craver's picture
Thank Henry for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network® is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »