Underground power lines may help prevent storm-related outages, but issues would arise, expert says

Alex Bozarjian Image
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Could underground power lines help prevent outages in Houston?
Could underground power lines prevent outages similar to those after last week's wind storm? An expert says yes, but new issues would arise.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Many parts of Spring Branch were still without electricity on Monday following last Thursday's deadly windstorm.

There were long lines of people throughout the day at the nearby Boys and Girls Club on Pitner Street, where officials set up a food distribution center. The area is primarily made up of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

The people waiting in line needed bare-bones essentials.

Young children were seen carrying bags of ice to their apartment across the street, where the lights had yet to come back on.

"I am worried most for my kids. My son had an allergic reaction on his skin from the intense heat," Jennifer Montes, who traveled from Long Point Road, said.

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones was joined by other city leaders to discuss recovery efforts.

"We learned that there are 900 children under the age of 5 who live within three-quarters of a mile from here. There are apartment complexes everywhere. This is a severely under-resourced area," Briones said.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire said he's calling for more aid to this area after running out Monday morning.

"One family told me they walked 40 minutes here from Hammerly and Long Point to get here. They were disappointed that we didn't have the resources, but we've taken care of that," Whitmire said.

"This is the first time I've seen this. My neighbors and I were talking about it. This is the first time we've gotten help like this," Floricel Bautista, who lives in Spring Branch, said.

Some of these people have been without power for five days. With hurricane season upon us, ABC13 looked into how much Houston's infrastructure is to blame.

SEE ALSO: What's the difference between tornado and straight-line wind damage?

Houston city officials pointed to the Spring Branch area as under-resourced as many neighbors walked their way to donation pick-up points.

The wind was a killer, knocking trees down on power lines.

"Energy is controlling most of our conversations," Whitmire said about the recovery process.

Energy was also the focus of Eyewitness News reporter Alex Bozarjian's one-on-one with Whitmire, which fittingly took place at a Spring Branch apartment complex with no power.

Bozarjian asked, "Do you feel good about the bounce back, or do you think you could do better?"

"I feel very good about it. I don't know where there's an area where we are lacking other than from years of neglect," Whitmire said.

What's been neglected, according to Whitmire, is some of the city's infrastructure.

As of Monday afternoon, 80% of residents had their power restored, which doesn't mean much to the 20% still in the dark.

SEE MORE: CenterPoint Energy still working to restore power to 192K customers, utility company says

"It gets back to resilience. Resilience needs multiple solutions at multiple levels and that is where I think things are evolving, but technology is perhaps a step or two behind," Dr. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at the University of Houston, said.

Krishnamoorti added that underground power lines might solve one problem but could create another.

"We start to put a lot more of these powerlines underground, and the next thing we know, we get something like a Hurricane Harvey-like flood event, in which case we not only get flooding, but we take out all of the electrical power," Krishnamoorti said.

He said the big picture is more complex and involves upgrading our electrical substations.

He said we aren't in the best position going into hurricane season, but at least those storms give us time to prepare.

"By making sure that our trees aren't getting too close to those overhead power lines. Those are some of the things we can collectively address much better," Krishnamoorti said.

Whitmire said the city has come together, and resources have been deployed from all over the state.

Unfortunately, Houston is still facing a budget shortfall.

"The finances are a challenge. We are going to get through this season. If someone can point to something we can do better, I am always open to suggestions," Whitmire said.

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