Well for one, Cost. Isn't is always money?
As this article indicates America did not have "the keen foresight of postwar European planners". (Big surprise there.)
"The characteristic sprawl of America’s suburbs has given much of the country a “built too fast” versus a “built to last” feel." (This meant no one - OK few - bothered to think about the long term, larger impacts to providing power, phone and other services on poles... just "git 'er done", which is admittedly Very American.)
Refreshingly, the article does not pick on the South or Katrina when it says:
"Large weather-driven failures of the network have become common over the last several years, affecting millions of consumers per year in cost, convenience and safety."
In the same article there is an explanation of why loosing and restoring power is such a crap shoot (and therefore needs to be effectively understood and communicated to the customers):
"As electric power gets closer to your house—from transmission lines, to feeders, to the lines down your street—the number of contingencies that the power system is designed to handle drops. Not surprisingly, most power outages occur on this low-voltage distribution system. Many of these outages are small and localized, caused when a pole gets hit by lightning or by a car, or when a transformer simply breaks or is shorted out by various small forces of nature such as squirrels or fast growing trees. In these instances, utility crews can “isolate the break”, thus restoring power to most of the neighborhood and bringing back the final few customers online once the break is fixed. The further you are down the line, the older the power system, or the greater the number of trees and vehicles, the more likely your power quality will be diminished."
Back to Cost. The article says:
"Determining the cost of underground power distribution systems is a “dark art.”"
The complexity of our "grid" also probably contributes to cost to convert to underground.
For cost analysis this means that:
"Although the numbers are highly variable, based upon whether it is a new system or the conversion of an existing system to an underground one, reports have underground systems costing roughly ten times more than of their overhead counterpart on a per-foot basis, with significant additional costs to hook up homes already connected to the overhead system. Many utilities’ reports about the cost of undergrounding the grid yield truly staggering rate increases, ranging from 50 to 150 percent of today’s rates, and often speak of requiring decades to complete the conversion. However, these studies often calculate the cost of undergrounding their entire systems—each mile of their transmission and distribution systems, not just selected pieces of the network that would significantly improve reliability, safety or visual impact."
"it is not possible to put underground lines just anywhere, at least not cost-effectively. Soil conditions and opportunities for corrosion must be considered, as must flood risks and the need to avoid damaging water and sewer mains, gas supplies and other utilities. Together these considerations affect the cost, the ease of maintenance and the long-term performance of underground power lines."
But then the article ask the question:
"Might the opportunity of a hurricane or an ice storm allow utilities to put lines underground?"
and answers it
"In the rush to restore service, this sounds unlikely, unless there are pre-existing plans, materials and manpower to “repair and upgrade” at the same time."
and then says about the electrical infrastructure what we've been saying for decades here in New Orleans can't we please fix the streets and the other infrastructure under the streets at the same time?
"as the upgrading of pre-existing neighborhood roads and sidewalks continues as well, upgrading and undergrounding utilities should be encouraged. This includes not just putting cables underground, but building future flexibility into the network so that it can accommodate “smart wires” (distribution automation) and the ability to accept distributed power generators such as solar, wind and micro-cogeneration (co-production of heat and electricity)."
"Whether industry will welcome such “repair and upgrade” or “renovate and upgrade” approaches is a big question."
Yes, and one that they will NOT ask themselves WE have to ASK this question.
"What would our cities and towns look like if we did adopt a “built to last” approach? That is yet another question and challenge for civil society, but to once again paraphrase the late Tip O’Neill, “all energy is local.” "