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To Bury Or Not To Bury? Officials Look At Underground Power Lines

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SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — Of the thousands of miles of power lines in North Carolina, officials said only about 15 percent are underground. Officials and residents are wondering whether more underground lines would prevent the large number of power outages from last week's ice storm.

In new subdivisions, the cables are buried underground. Raleigh and Cary are among the cities that require it, but utility officials claim removing lines hanging from power poles and burying them will not come easy or cheap. They said burying above-ground lines would cost between $15 billion and $18 billion.

"It's not a silver bullet. It's not going to solve everything," CP&L spokesman Keith Poston said.

Thousands of Moore County residents who lost lights as a result of last week's ice storm want to prevent it from happening again. They want underground power lines.

"Something's not right here. We need reliable power. How many times are they going to put it back up before they put it underground?" said Steve Adams, general manager of WEEB radio.

Adams broadcasted a message on WEEB, demanding that power companies bury their lines.

"The only way to stop the constant loss of power is to force the power companies to put their lines underground where they will be safe from the forces of nature," Adams said.

The radio spot struck a nerve with Moore County residents. An online petition got 7,000 signatures in two days, enough to crash the e-mail system.

Ben Turner, of the state utilities commission, said underground utilities have their shortcomings. He claims they wear out twice as fast as overhead lines since moisture can penetrate the lines.

"Whenever power is restored, the moisture creates an electrical short," Turner said.

Turner said he favors a combination of tree trimming and burying cables.

"I think it would be helpful to identify areas that are prone to interruption, maybe the customers that were the last to have the power turned on," he said.

The Utilities Commission said 90 percent of all new construction will put the electric wires underground.

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