Power Outages Hasten Deere Plant Conversion To Underground

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | October 2008 Vol. 63 No. 10

For years, electric and telecommunications cables to new residential, business and industrial developments have been placed underground where they are protected from wind storms, ice and other weather related risks.

Downed communications lines interrupt business activities and cause widespread inconvenience. Loss of electrical power shuts down lighting and most heating and cooling systems, and can cause life threatening conditions.

Even so, a surprising amount of cable remains suspended from poles that are subject to damage which causes outages requiring costly repairs. Because services must be restored as quickly as possible, following a major storm is not the time to plan an aerial to underground conversion program, and damaged aerial cable infrastructure usually is replaced on utility poles.

Why isn't more aerial cable being replaced by buried cable to reduce the risk of future outages?

Money is the most often given reason. Utility providers cite high costs and question who will pay the bills. However, regulators in some states are beginning to take a hard look at those costs and are investigating ways to encourage replacement of overhead infrastructure, especially power distribution systems.

In addition, many business facilities and government agencies are replacing old overhead systems with underground cable. Because they own the systems, the decision can be made purely on economic and improved service factors.

For example, the John Deere Works, a division of Deere & Co., recently completed a major aerial to underground conversion at its Ankeny, IA, facility. On a site of approximately 450 acres, the operation's more than 1,200 employees manufacture cotton picking equipment, sprayers and tillage machines. The project involved replacement of 15 KV aerial feeders to the plant with new underground feeders.

Failing infrastructure

"The project upgraded aging infrastructure," said Jim Floersch, facilities engineer. "The 30 year old aerial feeders were responsible for several recent failures. Replacing them improved reliability of critical utility lines, reduced maintenance and reduces risks from wind and weather. Placing cable underground fit corporate goals for standardization and located 100 percent of the facility's feeders underground. Removing aerial cable also improved 'street appeal' of the area."