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Bury lines to avoid storm outages

Guest Commentary

As I sat with my wife and guests shivering in our cold house with no electricity, no water pump and no gas burner for six days in the aftermath of Storm Alfred, I suddenly realized how dependent we had all become on electricity.

I’m not talking just about myself. All the gas stations were silent, all the small grocery stores were silent (except for the larger chains that could afford a generator) and all the repair shops and garages that depend on electricity for their work were silent. It was a total economic and physical disaster, especially in the northwestern and coastal regions of Connecticut, as well as certain areas of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine.

Yes, one can say this doesn’t happen very often, but the recent weather disputes that notion. We have had more tornadoes, more hurricanes and more floods than any time in our history, and I suspect more will be coming. What are the solutions?

How do we find a cure for our electricity woes? As I sat there shivering in the cold, the answer came from our visiting son-in-law who, along with our daughter, normally lives in the suburbs of Lyon, France. While ranting about how the richest country in the world could live like this, he was carrying in wood to keep near the fireplace, and he was there melting snow in a pot to get water for our toilets. Other countries did not have this problem, but why? Because all their electrical wires are beneath the earth. That’s the solution.

Yes, but that will be costly. What about the economic costs of the stores, garages and workshops if you don’t? What about the cost to the small towns in warmth, clothing, showers and food supplies? What about the costs of double-time pay for all the crews working day and night restoring the downed lines, all of which is eventually passed on to the customer?

No, the cure is that governments, both state and federal, and the power companies contribute equally (some more equally than others) with a heavy emphasis on the companies, not the people already paying high electricity bills. I should add that outside of Hawaii, Connecticut has the highest electricity rates of any state in the nation, according to Google, with which to eliminate the archaic poles and put these lines below the ground.

There are benefits to this approach. It will create jobs needed to achieve these goals, but we have them here right now. There are many house builders with backhoes that lie idle, and there are many workers looking for jobs. This could be, in reality, an economic boom for these people. We need people to dig, we need people to cover the lines, we need people to do the work — and once these lines are underground, the problem is solved. Yes, we may need on occasion to find a broken line, but I believe this can be tracked easily by grids and repaired quickly, which is something that is not done today.

So the solution is to write to your state and federal governments, and especially the people who serve in them. Write your governor and your local power company. This is no longer a question or problem with local companies that have been very willing to spend money in the past, but just pass on higher prices for electricity to provide monies for these catastrophic events. It is a question of solution for all people, and if it means government should take over these companies, so be it.

This does not have to start all at once, but there are areas that have been hard hit each time and this would be the place to begin. We should continue this fight until the companies comply and write again to these people when the next power outage occurs (and it will). All of this should be done continuously, lest we forget the two multi-day power outages in 60 days.

I am not an expert on electricity, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a degree in electrical engineering to realize that something has to be done about the present state. This means the electrical companies must stop paying their officers high bonuses at the end of the year or high dividends to their stock holders, or continue to charge us high rates for electricity for monies to cover these outages. The companies should bear the most costs for submerging these lines and not pass on the costs to the consumers. Otherwise, I think state and federal governments should take over these companies in the name of national security.

John B. Zabriskie lives in West Cornwall.