Promoting Sustainability Through Utilities Undergrounding
April 24, 2024

Scenic America is celebrating Earth Day by taking a closer look at how our key issues are woven into the principles of environmentalism and sustainability. Every day this week, we will be posting new content about one of our five key issues and detailing how each embody the Earth Day spirit. Today, we take a closer look at the positive environmental, economic, and community impacts of utilities undergrounding.

Scenic America is proud to champion a cause that marries sustainability with community well-being. Undergrounding, the practice of burying power lines and other utility infrastructure, plays a critical role in promoting a safer, more visually appealing, and more equitable future for all. Join us as we explore how this initiative safeguards our landscapes and fosters a more sustainable and resilient world for generations to come.

Enhanced Safety and Resilience

One of the most immediate benefits of undergrounding utilities is enhanced safety and resilience to both the human and wildlife population as well as the environment. With climate change worsening the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, ensuring the reliability of our power grid is crucial. Overhead wires and exposed energy infrstructure are highly susceptible to failure during storms, leading to widespread power outages and posing significant safety risks such as wildfire. According to Inside Climate News, over the last 30 years fire officials at the federal, state, and local levels fought nearly 33,000 wildfires across the country that were said to have been sparked by power lines. By burying utility lines underground, communities can mitigate these risks and ensure a more resilient infrastructure capable of withstanding the challenges posed by severe weather and an aging energy infrastructure.

Economic Impact

Aside from safety concerns, undergrounding utilities also offers substantial economic benefits. The cost of maintaining and repairing damaged overhead lines, often passed on to consumers by utility companies, can be staggering. Moreover, the economic disruption caused by power outages can have far-reaching consequences, impacting businesses, industries, and individuals. A report by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and the U.S. Department of Energy estimated the annual cost of weather-related power outages to be between $18-33 billion. By reducing these outages through undergrounding, communities can save billions of dollars in lost economic activity, stimulating local economies and enabling growth.

Aesthetics and Community Development

Beyond safety and economic considerations, undergrounding utilities also has a transformative effect on the aesthetics of our communities. Overhead wires detract from the natural beauty of landscapes and urban environments, diminishing property values and hindering community development efforts. By burying utility lines, communities can enhance their visual appeal, attracting new businesses, stimulating economic development, and increasing property values. Studies have shown that house prices can increase by 5-20% after wires go underground, highlighting the significant impact on real estate values and community prosperity.

Equity and Environmental Justice

Crucially, the push for undergrounding utilities aligns with Scenic America’s broader equity and environmental justice goals. Marginalized communities, often disproportionately impacted by pollution and lack of investment in clean energy solutions, also bear the brunt of unsightly utility infrastructure. These communities lack scenic equity, with overhead wires and other energy infrastructure further exacerbating environmental and economic disparities. Scenic America aims to address these inequities by advocating for underground utilities, ensuring all communities have access to safe, reliable, and visually appealing energy infrastructure.

As we commemorate Earth Day, be sure to remember the importance of sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Through initiatives like utilities undergrounding, Scenic America can push towards enhancing safety, stimulating economic growth, promoting community development, and advancing principles of equity and environmental justice. By working together to bury utility lines and promote scenic beauty, we can create a more sustainable and resilient future for all.