Saturday, June 15, 2024

Duke Energy is burying miles of power lines around Wilmington

Duke Energy employees replacing lines downtown in 2021. (Port City Daily/file photo)

WILMINGTON — Duke Energy will bury nearly eight miles of power lines in New Hanover in the pursuit of keeping the city’s power on during storms.

“We want to make it more resistant to outages, severe weather, and make it more resilient to restore power faster,” Duke spokesperson Jeff Brooks said.

READ MORE: Duke Energy wants to keep Brunswick Nuclear Plant running

Princess Place, Myrtle Grove and Ogden can expect to see Duke crews moving lines underground over the next three years.

Duke has already buried about 16 miles of line in New Hanover County over the past few years. Kings Grant wrapped recently, an area now seeing fewer outages during storms because of the undergrounding program, according to Brooks. 

Forest Hills and Murrayville also benefited from undergrounding work.

Brooks said the undergrounding is targeted at the most outage-prone neighborhoods in the area. Duke is focusing on areas that experience six or more outages each year because of storm damage to overhead lines, identified by the company’s own real-time data collection. Common issues in these locations come from lines placed in wooded areas, often difficult for crews to reach. 

Duke currently has no plans to bury lines elsewhere in the Cape Fear.

“It’s really not practical to place every power line underground and in most cases it’s not necessary,” Brooks said. “[O]ur overhead power lines have similar reliability to our underground power lines, and an overhead power line is much easier to repair when an outage or problem occurs.”

Brooks said if the company were to attempt to bury the entire grid in Wilmington, it would be prohibitively expensive and could affect customer bills. The targeted method will keep costs down for the utility company by cutting the amount of maintenance needed in problem areas and improving uptime for customers that live there. The upgrades are going in at no cost to the people who live there. The company has spent $300 million on regional grid investments since 2018.

Brooks said underground lines can still be damaged by animals, water and the increasing threat of digging to run other utilities.

“As more and more utilities are being placed underground — fiber, telecom stuff — the likelihood of dig-ins has increased, especially in areas that are growing a lot.” he added.

Duke representatives are going door-to-door in areas where lines will be buried and handing out pamphlets about the project to discuss details with residents. It’s as part of what Brooks described as “a direct connection to the company during these improvements.”

In some cases crews will remove lines from the back of properties and bore channels for new lines in the front of parcels, which requires updates to power easement agreements. Installation of underground lines could cause occasional lane closures in the affected areas.

When taking into account all the cables Duke has running throughout the county, it adds up to thousands of miles.

The company is assessing more projects to begin in 2023 as part of a large-scale rollout of infrastructure improvements to its six-state grid to increase reliability. “Self healing” grid technology and upgraded utility poles are both included.

“Self-healing” means when outages are detected in the area, software can reroute the grid automatically around the affected area to reduce the number of people who lose power.

It’s installed throughout Pender and Brunswick counties, and also is being installed downtown near 9th and Orange streets, through the country club area. Eventually, 80% of Duke’s grid will be covered by the technology.

Brooks said the technology helped avoid about 14,000 outages in the tri-county area this year,

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