Crews remove a crossarm as past of a reliability improvement project
Crews Making Steady Progress on Electric System Improvements 11/16/2019

Our Electric Operations crews are making steady progress on improving the local power grid's reliability, and have completed more than half of a series of the planned resiliency projects throughout the Eugene service area this year.

Following the 2016 ice storm, we applied for grant funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make the electric system improvements in order to reduce the frequency and duration of storm-related outages.

The agency has approved 15 of the 16 proposed projects, and will fund 75% of the total cost, estimated to be about $2.7 million. Crews have completed 10 of the projects.

The projects represent the most storm-affected areas not only from the 2016 storm, but those in 2014 and 2012. The projects are distributed around the community, including in the Danebo, Dillard, Delta, Hilyard, Blanton, Oakway, River Road, Santa Clara and Coburg/Harlow areas.

To view a map of the projects, click here.

A dozen of the reliability projects will involve reconfiguring older overhead power lines that now have two wires and replacing them with new, higher-capacity cable that requires only one wire. This will also allow for the removal of crossarms, which are susceptible to falling trees and limbs and a common culprit in an outage. Replacement of damaged crossarms is time-consuming and slows restoration efforts. Some lines may be rerouted.

Four of the reliability projects will convert overhead lines to underground service. All of the projects will be completed by fall 2020.

The costs of undergrounding

One of the questions we receive after winter storms damage the system by bringing down trees and overhead power lines is: Why doesn't EWEB put more power lines underground?

The explanation is a bit complicated.

One primary driver in considering overhead to underground conversions is cost. Placing overhead lines underground in established neighborhoods - around existing underground infrastructure such as water/sewer pipes and buildings - is expensive.

The cost to underground a transmission line, which serves thousands of customers is around $500 per foot. To underground a primary feeder line, which serves several hundred up to more than a thousand customers, the cost is about $150 per foot.

Those estimates do not include the cost of negotiating easements on private property, nor the cost of the ground transformers that would be required.

There also is additional cost to repair fences and landscaping after the underground work is completed, and some property owners don't want us digging up their backyards, or placing a pad mount transformers in their front yards.

By comparison, overhead power lines are much less costly. An overhead transmission line costs about $150 per foot, and an overhead primary feeder line costs about $70 per foot. That $70 per foot drops even further when there are multiple circuits coming off the overhead feeder.

When underground lines are installed as part of a new subdivision that is not already encumbered by buildings, streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure, it is much less expensive. Plus, the developer covers those installation costs.