Winter Storms Renew The Push To Move Oklahoma’s Power Grid Underground
For the last thirty-six hours of winter storm warning and one heck of a massive arctic blast, Oklahomans across the state are asking questions again about the feasibility of the power grid.
While it doesn't seem to be as fragile and inefficient as the Texas grid, many Oklahomans lost power over the last few days due to a seemingly archaic electric design. Electric lines hung on poles and exposed to nature tend to suffer nature's wrath.
While the normal headline for winter power outages in the Sooner State is ice buildup, it's more often than not the wind that comes sweeping down the plain.
Oklahoma's bipolar weather.
It's the most common question that follows any extended outage with weather to blame. Oklahoma is a cantankerous state in regard to wild weather.
100 MPH winds? Yep. Tornadoes? Absolutely. Huge rains? Yes. Records droughts? Believe it. Brutal summers? It's a given. Brutal winter storms? More often than you'd expect.
Oklahoma experiences winter as you would expect. The entire state is classified in the weather transition zone. It's extremely hot and extremely cold throughout the average year.
Example: A brutal winter storm rolled into the state the second week of February 2011. While some places were still plowing away at the 27 inches of snow that had fallen, the tiny town of Nowata set a crazy weather record. On February 11th, the temperature in Nowata was -31°. Seven days later the mercury rose to 79°. A 110° temp swing.
Since our winters are generally on the mild side, when those big arctic blasts do come through, the snow generally melts before the wind has a chance to freeze everything at ground level. This is why we get so much ice.
Ice accumulates on power lines, and because water in all forms is so dang heavy, power lines break and fall causing outages all over.
Why isn't Oklahoma's electric grid underground?
In most places where winter weather is a big concern, the electrical grid is buried in the ground. If there are no power lines for ice to settle on, electrical services are rarely affected.
This has been a hot topic for two decades now in the Sooner State, ever since a brutal winter storm knocked the power out for most citizens living north of I-40 for up to three weeks back in 2002.
Almost since the day after power was restored, electric providers such as OG&E across the state have insisted that it would be far too expensive to bury our power grid. $60million would be needed just to redraw and secure new land use agreements.
In 2008, a study performed by the Oklahoma government determined that the underground power conversion would be far too costly to do, but many called shenanigans.
It was an estimated cost to bury every power line in the state. That's not how big-winter states build their reliable grids, why would Oklahoma do that? Was it simply playing politics and spinning unwarranted facts to price the idea out?
In a perfect world, the main power lines would remain constructed as normal. Those that run across the state and along the highways could remain in place, making needed weather repairs convenient and relatively easy. It's the power lines that run in the alleys and easements of cities, the hard-to-repair lines that need burying.
The topic was moot until 2021 gave us all a glimmer of hope.
Shut up and take our money!
H.R. 3684 - President Biden's highly contested Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act earmarked $65billion (with a B) to improve America's electrical grid.
The aim was to bring America's power grid up to a modern standard set forth in more technologically forward countries like Germany and the Netherlands - AKA - countries that also get tons of winter weather.
Does this mean Oklahoma's grid will eventually go underground? Probably not... but you can bet the power companies will enjoy their cut of that infrastructure bill. Probably use it to buy back their own publicly traded stock like every other corporation in this country does with free money.
Power will be restored to 100% again shortly, and those affected will be so thankful that they'll forget about the if's and when's, focussing entirely on the now. With a major holiday just days away, I'm sure the conversations will shift away from our grid issues until mother nature reminds us again with the next storm.