2:15 PM EDT, July 11, 2012
Power outages lasting a week or longer are on everyone's minds, and the finger-pointing goes on, mostly in BGE's direction for not being prepared for the derecho storm last week. The professional weather forecasters could not predict it, so I'm unclear how BGE could have.
In a recent commentary, columnist Dan Rodricks suggested that our power distribution system is like that of a third-world country compared with developed countries such as Germany ("It's not astrophysics: Bury power lines," July 5). I lived in Germany and agree with Dan's assessment. I was there in 1995 when a derecho hit; roof tiles were stripped off buildings everywhere, but I don't believe there were widespread power outages.
A CNN report of another derecho in Berlin 10 years ago cited widespread damage and transportation blocked by fallen trees, but it made no mention of power outages. Every report of a bad storm in the U.S. seems to begin with a statement of how many were left in the dark.
Part of the solution may be to put many power wires (and all other utilities) underground, but that is not the only way to fix the problem. There needs to be a honest study of the long-term changes in our power distribution scheme and other utilities. A lot can be learned from what Germany has been doing for at least a half century when a derecho hits.
As an example of the difference: Here, when there is a row of houses close together lining the street, there is a separate wire strung from each house to a pole by the street or alley, generally in danger of being hit by a falling tree.
In Germany, a wire comes from the transformer to the first house and then goes directly from one roof-top to the next along the row, with a short metal pole on each roof. There are no extra, large poles to break (or look at) and no trees between the houses to fall on the wire.
As Dan commented, many outages are also caused by vehicles hitting poles. In Germany, there are very few power poles near the road to be hit.
Another difference: While we run our main distribution lines along the road where we want trees to be, Germany has many of them running across open farm fields between towns (on taller metal towers or poles) where there will never be trees. I don't think that the Germans would ever tolerate a row of ugly poles and all that wire on both sides of the road like we often have.
We have become accustomed to seeing poles everywhere (while fighting against new cell towers). If you want to see an example, drive down Sunshine Ave between Kingsville and Fork, where there are poles lining both sides of the road. Any vehicle running off this narrow road is likely to hit one. They should all be buried or moved away from the road.
Another difference is that Germany generally does not allow the sort of "sprawl" development we do that then requires a correspondingly extensive and scattered electric distribution system. Unless it's an established farm, they only build a new house on the edge of an existing village, where the wire from the neighboring house is just extended to the new one. As a result, they also do not have the problem of excessive septic systems that we have.)
We could learn a lot from countries that have already figured out how to survive violent storms without extensive power outages. What we don't need is another investigation of BGE as Pat McDonough proposes. We need a cooperative effort between the government, industry and citizens to solve the long-term problem.
Mike Pierce, Kingsville
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