Why don’t we put all the power lines underground?

That’s a great question. Here’s what you need to know about this subject, using data as of spring 2021:

Seattle to Tijuana

Since 2000, 1,625 miles of new underground line has been added to FEC’s system. (1,625 miles will take you all the way down the West coast. If you start in Seattle and go South for 1600 miles, you’ll end up in Tijuana, Mexico.)

March LR UG to OH

FEC has 5,014 total miles of energized line, over half of which is underground.

Underground Conditions

Underground line is not feasible at all locations including wetlands, high water tables, river crossings, for existing structures, or where there are rocky soil conditions.

Members generally decide whether new line extensions are installed below or above ground. That decision is usually based on costs and aesthetics, with most new services being underground installation.

Members are required to install underground lines when there is limited access for Co-op crews to complete the overhead installation, for safety regulations (clearances from signs, buildings, pedestrian traffic, etc.), and when state permits require it.

Underground Excavation

Besides the cost, there are other challenges to installing underground line. Although underground may decrease the frequency of outages, it can also increase the duration of outages if there is a cable fault. It takes much longer to restore power when lines must be excavated to repair.

Cost Comparison

There are too many variables to provide an exact cost comparison between installing overhead and underground, but shorter line extensions can cost three times as much to go underground, while long extensions can reach upwards of ten times the cost of overhead.

Replacing our entire system would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. As a member-owned cooperative, those increased costs would fall onto our members through our rates.

The Co-op does constant analysis on where capital system improvements (like overhead to underground conversions) would benefit the membership as a whole.

FEC has always been (and will continue to be) committed to maintaining a balance on our system to provide reliable service and affordable rates now and for future generations.