Following eight hurricanes over the last two years, Florida residents are concerned about power shortages to come. According to the Tampa Tribune of 26 January 2006, citizens have "...prompted legislators and regulators to ask tough questions about how the state's power system can be "hurricane proofed." Utilities are being put on the hot seat to find answers -- especially with predictions of very active hurricane seasons for this year and beyond...Studies after the 2004 hurricanes showed most of the outages were caused by trees, either being blown into power lines or toppling onto and dragging down power lines. Although trimming trees might help keep the lights on during and after a hurricane, the long-term solution some public officials and customers are calling for is placing electric equipment underground. If regulators and politicians require existing lines to be buried, it could significantly increase the cost of electricity." By some estimates, the line burying cost could be thousands per customer.It's easy to see why utilities could be reluctant to dig. There would be huge capital outlays over a short period. These would have to be recovered by a long term rate increase that is sure to make customers unhappy. And that means lower short term profits for utilities. Considering that the hurricane season comes back in just another six months, the demoralizing choice they face is to either cut the trees down fast and make TreeHuggers mad, or leave the trees up and get only small fraction of the burying done before the storms come back and make eveyone angry for lack of power.
The burying scenario certainly does have long term advantages. But so do trees. We see a third scenario with long term advantages: widespread use of distributed, renewable power generation. Can't be wind turbines of course. Solar photovoltaic power generation in the hurricane zone is an opportunity we looked into last year. Not for everyone of course; but, that rate increase is going to shorten the payback period for a solar investment where it makes sense. The arrival of innovative 12V appliances will make it even more attractive.