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A Year Past Snowmageddon 2019, EWEB Improves Power Resiliency

Brian Bull

A year ago, the region was under a foot and a half of dense snow.  Ice and falling branches knocked down many power lines, causing massive outages. As KLCC’s Brian Bull reports, utility work continues to protect against future disasters.

EWEB spokesman Joe Harwood recalls the winter storm of 2019.

“Pretty awful.  I think we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 outages throughout that 9 or 10 day period.”

Since then, EWEB has implemented 16 projects designed to improve resiliency for its power grid. Four will convert overhead lines to underground, while 12 will replace overhead lines with newer versions.

Credit EWEB
An updated roster (as of 2/26/2020) of EWEB projects across Eugene. Ten of the sixteen have been done, with the remainder due to finish up later this year.

“It allows for the removal of crossarms which are susceptible to falling trees and limbs, and they’re a very common culprit in an outage.”

More than 15 miles of new, underground power cable will also be installed within the downtown network system.

FEMA is covering 75 percent of the $3 million cost.

Harwood says while there was much interest in underground power lines following the February 2019 storm, they are "not a panacea". 

In an email to KLCC, he writes:

"The cost to underground a transmission line, which serves thousands of customers is around $500 per foot. To underground a primary feeder line, which serves several hundred up to more than a thousand customers, the cost is about $150 per foot.

"Those estimates do not include the cost of negotiating easements on private property, nor the cost of the ground transformers that would be required.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Utility crews in Eugene's South Hills area respond to a home with downed power lines.


"There also is additional cost to repair fences and landscaping after the underground work is completed, and some property owners don’t want us digging up their backyards, or placing a pad mount transformers in their front yards.

"By comparison, overhead power lines are much less costly. An overhead transmission line costs about $150 per foot, and an overhead primary feeder line costs about $70 per foot. That $70 per foot drops even further when there are multiple circuits coming off the overhead feeder.

"When underground lines are installed as part of a new subdivision that is not already encumbered by buildings, streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure, it is much less expensive. Plus, the developer covers those installation costs.

"While undergrounding electric lines tends to protect them during ice and snow storms, the lines can be difficult and time-consuming to repair when the underground cables fail."

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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