I don’t know about your community, but here in Greater Lansing there seems to be an intense love affair between public utilities and power poles. “Holy pincushions, Batman, you’d think they’d all been raised by a family of porcupine.”
In some places, the primary roadway corridors look like a linear parade of power pole blight. Sadly, all too often this leaves communities in the region with disjointed and unpleasant streetscape aesthetics to overcome.
Attempts have been made to convince the utilities to remove their visual blight and bury the power lines, but that is usually greeted with consternation and rebuttals on the cost-effectiveness of such actions. If the community or property owners wish to pay for burying the lines, they would be glad to oblige. As a result, instead of a modern and efficient electrical grid, numerous locations end up with a cobbled together third-world grid that struggles to provide quality service during ice, snow, and wind storm events.
One would think that after a certain number of repetitive power outages and emergency repairs to broken, damaged, and fallen power lines, electric utilities would initiate routine burying programs on their own to reduce the number of outages and their firm’s long-term maintenance costs. Throw in regular tree trimming efforts and eventually burying power lines doesn’t look so expensive anymore. Apparently the bean counters differ on that assessment.
Years ago, power utilities were often active participants in economic development, community enhancement, redevelopment, and revitalization efforts. It was seen as a way to increase the utility’s customer base. Today, many utilities appear to act in their own best interest and have increasingly become a stubborn impediment to new initiatives and progressive streetscape design ideas. Whether this is a function of the short-term profit mindset or local firms being bought out or merging with multinationals is not entirely clear. Unfortunately, whatever the reason, local communities are left with paying the price of power pole/line blight with unsightly pincushionesque landscapes dotting the horizon. As planning professionals, we are left shaking our heads at the insanity and shortsightedness of it all.
No one is advocating for the burying of the area’s entire power line infrastructure. That would be impractical. But, in those areas where the power poles have become overbearing and omnipresent, or in places where redevelopment and revitalization efforts are trying to get underway, burying the power lines makes sense. As stakeholders in the community, it is hoped the utilities will join local efforts to achieve a more aesthetically pleasant streetscape and overall community vision.