Volume XI, Issue 37 ~ September 11-17, 2003

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Unwiring the Skies: Mayor Moyer’s Bright Idea

What a good idea Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer has in pressuring Baltimore Gas & Electric to bury more of its power lines.

Nearly three-fourths of blackouts happen because of trees falling on transmission wires. But BG&E argues that it’s just too expensive to take the lines out of trees and bury them safely underground.

Early last century, people pointed with pride to wires strung from their homes. Not only did the wires bring you electricity; they also told your neighbors you had it.

Like most utilities, BG&E seems to think that’s how God meant electricity to be delivered. But technologies change, and so should utilities’ thinking. Isn’t technology their business, after all?

So we’re offering some more reasons to sink more power lines in the earth.

Reliability ought to be reason enough. In the 21st century, electricity isn’t a luxury. Most Americans have lived their whole lives with electricity. Surviving without power is like being asked to set up housekeeping in the Dark Ages. And it’s not just to keep cool or warm that we depend on electricity. It brings us our water and preserves our food. It’s the life’s blood of the information age. Because of its partnership with modern medicine, it’s life — and its absence death — for many.

The prospect of wireless views is another reason BG&E should listen to Moyer. We live in a beautiful place, and beauty is one of the currencies Chesapeake Country takes to the bank. But our horizons are criss-crossed with wires and pierced with poles reeking of creosote. And our trees look like victims of the Texas Chain-Saw Massacre as utility workers hack away to keep limbs from lines.

Truth is that utilities almost always must be forced into change. That reality is playing out in the aftermath of the recent power outage that blacked out 60 million Americans in the Northeast and Midwest (but not Maryland).

As it stands, only voluntary standards govern utilities’ use of the power grid that transports electricity — which increases the possibility of careless glitches that leave Americans in the dark.

As part of the new energy bill, Congress likely will give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more authority to force utilities to toe the line. At least we hope so.

Here’s one more reason, and one that companies like BG&E understand. Deregulation is giving consumers more opportunity to pick the power that comes into their homes. Those choices will become more appealing with the arrival of wind and solar power.

Electricity remains a matter of the public trust. But utilities have become self-willed and arrogant. Why else would they refer to us as “ratepayers” rather than customers?

So here’s one more good reason: Accepting Moyer’s proposal to bury more power lines would signal that BG&E is listening to the bright ideas of the people it serves.



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Last updated September 11, 2003 @ 1:42am