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Is going underground a remedy for extended power outages?

  • May 29, 2018
  • 1655 views
Source: 
Pocono Record

May 28--STROUDSBURG -- A high quality of life makes a community an inviting place to live and run a business.

One thing that can negatively affect that quality of life for both homeowners and business owners is a widespread extended electrical power outage, like the one resulting from the May 15 thunderstorm.

The borough is looking at ways to protect residents and businesses from future extended outages. One way, which Mayor Tarah Probst plans to suggest at the June 5 Borough Council meeting, is opening the franchise allowing customers in the borough to switch to another power company.

PPL and Met-Ed are the two electric utility companies serving this area.

"Met-Ed customers seem to have a harder time getting their power restored than do PPL customers," Probst said.

PPL spokesman Joe Nixon chalked this up to PPL upgrading its grid system in recent years to reroute power away from trouble spots on the grid while repair personnel address those spots. This rerouting means reduced outages during and after storms, Nixon said.

The Borough Council is awaiting information from Met-Ed and PPL on how much it would cost to put both companies' power lines underground, where the lines would be safe from the high winds and falling trees that cause outages. It remains to be seen if information on the cost of underground power line installation will be available for discussion at the June 5 Borough Council meeting.

"Putting the lines underground is a decision to be made by the borough, not by either of the power companies," Stroudsburg Mayor Tarah Probst said.

PPL and Met-Ed both say they wouldn't recommend underground power lines due to the cost, which would be seven to 10 times more than that of above-ground lines to install and maintain.

"Are customers willing to pay for this?," asked spokesman Scott Surgeoner for Met-Ed's parent company, First Energy.

One PPL customer which never lost power during the May 15 storm is the Gulf gas station on Lower Main Street. Kevin Howarth, owner of the gas station and auto service there, said the borough should worry more about local roads in poor condition than about putting power lines underground.

"We do plan on fixing our roads which are in bad shape," Probst said. "The idea is to have the power lines installed underground in phases as we're ripping up and repaving the roads ourselves. This would save the utility companies extra work for which they wouldn't charge us."

Here's the catch

However, even underground, power lines would still be susceptible to shortages caused by groundwater infiltration from flooding, as well as animals chewing on them, according to Surgeoner and Nixon. Plus, problems causing outages can take longer to locate and repair on underground lines than on above-ground lines.

"None of this would be a concern if the underground lines were insulated by conduits protecting them from such threats," Probst said.

Sounds good, but Nixon mentioned other potential barriers to underground lines. These include the physical constraints of existing buildings and other infrastructure, along with the presence of gas, water and other underground utilities.

"In addition, undergrounding existing lines means also undergrounding telecommunications and all other lines currently attached to above-ground electric utility poles, which adds to the cost," Nixon said.

Echoing this point is a question posed by Brian Prutting whose business, the Main Street Laundromat, is another PPL customer that never lost power in this month's storm.

"What good would it do to put power lines underground when most of the storm damage was to the above-ground high-voltage towers outside of town?," Prutting asked.

Trying to revitalize

The bottom line, according to Probst and others, is that something needs to be done to prevent future extended power outages. Especially in the borough's downtown business district, which has been trying to revitalize itself.

The Altar Tattoo Piercing, a Main Street Met-Ed customer, was without power for three days after the May 15 storm.

"That's three days of wages lost," owner Rendi Young said. "If we're gonna sell downtown Stroudsburg as a mecca, then I agree they should put the power lines underground so businesses can still be open for people to patronize.

"That Mount Airy Casino gambling revenue, which was supposed to benefit the Poconos, turned out to be b.s.," Young said. "Businesses are still struggling because visitors to the Poconos are bypassing Stroudsburg and heading to the resorts up the mountain. So, we need to do whatever we can to make downtown Stroudsburg more inviting."

Like The Altar, other Met-Ed customers in the business district had a harder time getting power restored than PPL customers did after the storm.

"I felt it bad," said Jenel Thomas, owner of One's Chiq Boutique on Lower Main Street, referring to her three-day outage. "Putting power lines underground would be the best thing. No more trees coming down on them."

For the three days it was out, Marco Antonio's Spanish/Portuguese Restaurant on Main Street had to keep its food refrigerated at a nearby restaurant, a PPL customer which didn't lose power.

"If it's feasible, then putting power lines underground would be logical because these weather patterns seem to be getting worse," manager Carolyn Scarponi said.

Sarah Street Grill was out for two days.

"We lost about $10,000 worth of business, though we're still calculating," manager Christy Connolly said Wednesday, eight days after the storm. "Putting power lines underground is a great idea. It would be more aesthetically pleasing, though I wonder if it would be harder to maintain underground lines. We Met-Ed customers seem to be on isolated little grids surrounded by PPL customers, which I guess is why it takes so long to get our power back on."

Though their power was out for shorter periods, some PPL customers still were significantly affected.

"We did three haircuts by candlelight," said employee Lisa Possinger at EL Salon on Lower Main Street, where power was out for 14 to 15 hours.

Fellow employee Donna Percia said, "We were also using our phone flashlights to see. We had customers sitting here in the dark because the storm kept them from leaving. Putting power lines underground would make sense. It's what they do in the city."

Neighboring Sweet Creams Cafe's power likewise was out from Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday morning.

"We had to close early and later had to get rid of all our ice cream," manager Charlie Simino said. "It wasn't good."

In contrast, Main Street Printing never lost power, but did lose Internet service for two days.

"That hurt us because our jobs come in and our prints go out through the Internet," owner Ron Bittenbender said. "I like the idea of putting power lines underground, but the cost factor must be tremendous."

Probst said, "No business should have to go through this. Depending on what type of business you are, it can drive up your insurance rates and cause a lot of frustration. That's not what we want for our local businesses."

___

(c)2018 the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa.

Visit the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa. at http://www.poconorecord.com/

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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