Why aren’t power lines buried in the U.S. like they are in Europe?

While the costs are higher, installing power lines underground would prevent electrocution deaths and electric shock injury lawsuits, keep the public and our utility workers safe


Many of the legal experts I work with in electrocution lawsuits will examine a given case from a number of different angles and perspectives. Some of these experts look at electrocution lawsuits caused by above ground power lines as akin to product liability defective design cases, and ask the same question that so many people who inspect and maintain power lines will ask.

Given the extremely serious risk of electrocution or shock:

Why aren’t power lines in the U.S. buried underground
like they are in some places in Europe?

When utility power lines are above ground, they’re prone to outages, physical deterioration and lack of critical maintenance, and dangers from storms and trees. These are what kill most people in electrocution lawsuits. These are the reasons that most power lines fall and kill an unsuspecting homeowner, child or utility worker.

Although we regularly see outages and dangerous power lines that can kill innocent people here in America, we don’t see anyone being electrocuted and killed in European countries such as Germany. Why? In Germany, the risk of outages or power-line dangers is greatly reduced, because the power lines are underground, according to an article on Outside the Beltway, “Why can’t we just bury all the power lines?”

Should cost trump all other factors, including safety and lives, when deciding whether to bury power lines in the U.S.?

One of the major reasons utility companies won’t bury wires – instead of stringing them overhead – is because of cost. It costs about 10 times as much to bury a wire instead of stringing it overhead. In 2002, the North Carolina Utilities Commission concluded that transitioning to underground wires would take 25 years and increase electricity rates by 125%. Since American cities are less dense than European cities, it would take a lot more cable to serve a U.S. population than a European one, according to the article.

It should be noted, however, as utility company defense lawyers like to point out, that buried power distribution service is not completely feasible in some geographical/geological areas of the U.S., due to conditions such as foreseeable flooding (e.g. southern coastal areas), and locations with especially rocky subsoil (e.g. granite boulders in Colorado).

But when assessing the costliness of burying power lines, those costs must be weighed against the clear benefits: No above grade power-line hazards guarantees there will be far fewer electrical injuries and electrocution deaths.

These are important infrastructure investments that not only help protect a failing and crumbling energy grid, but they are “shovel-ready” projects that will save lives and prevent costly litigation and heart-rending tragedies.

Buried power lines are safe from bad weather and overgrown trees

As one additional argument in favor of burying power lines, consider that weather and tree branches cause 40% of power outages in the U.S.

The leading cause of death among tree trimmers was electrocution, according to data from the National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities. This is consistent with my recent blog post about the fact that power line workers have one of the 10 most dangerous jobs in the country.

Perhaps I’m a lawyer who is pushing too hard for my own obsolescence, but after three decades of litigating electrocution cases for people injured and killed, I’d love to see these tragedies end.

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