Overhead electric lines not a bright idea

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” There is some debate, however, whether he actually said it. The people who obsess over such things argue whether credit is due Benjamin Franklin, French philosopher Voltaire, and American psychologist George Kelly.

Whoever invented it, you have to know that the idea came to him while he was sitting in his dark house waiting for his local electrical utility to restore power after the latest storm.

The definition of insanity begins with taking our most fragile infrastructure and hanging it from poles where it is can be torn down by snow and ice storms, Wednesday’s record-setting winds, random falling tree branches, squirrels that don’t know any better and texting drivers who are worse than the squirrels.

Then after those predictable and inevitable mishaps rip apart our electrical grid — leaving people freezing in their homes, their groceries spoiling in the freezer and, sometimes, their neighborhoods on fire — we haul the wires back to the top of the poles and where we hope widespread crippling power outages will never happen again.

Of course it will happen again.

We wonder how many there have been since 2007, when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm directed the Michigan Public Service Commission to expand requirements for burying electric utility cables. At the time, underground electric mains are required in new residential subdivisions in the Lower Peninsula, for certain industrial and commercial applications, in congested central business districts or at the utility’s choice.

Despite Granholm’s request, that hasn’t changed. And the lines keep falling down — enough that a million electrical customers were left in the dark by Wednesday’s wind.

DTE Energy told the state in 2007 that its overhead lines fail five times as often as underground cables. But underground wires are more expensive to install and although they fail far less often, repairs are slower and more costly. But unlike today, it is not likely every line in the state would require repair at the same time.

Moving our vulnerable electrical utilities underground is another vital infrastructure need we cannot afford to ignore and cannot afford to pay for.

— Times Herald (Port Huron)

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