Growing up in Canada, power lines were always a familiar sight. Always following the roads, the electric wires can hardly be avoided. Upon coming to Finland, however, I quickly realized that they were not as present in the landscape as in Canada.
Why is that?
A few things first
In reality, the difference in the status of power lines between Canada and Finland is not so clear-cut. As things stand now, 11% of power lines in Québec (my province of Canada) are buried, while this number is approximately 42% in Finland.
The main difference though, is that Finland has an active strategy to increase this number to 65% by 2029. Helen, the energy company for Helsinki, already operates a power network buried at 97,7%.
In Québec, most of the buried power lines are limited to touristic sites or to new developments. There is no long term planning related to burying lines in existing areas either.
To bury or not to bury?
One of the reasons this difference between Finland and Canada strikes me so much is the existence of a common problem in both countries: winter.
As we now slowly crawl through November, we can already start to experience the type of freezing rains and ice formation that easily qualify as power lines’ nemesis.
The higher risk of power outage is the actual reason behind Finland’s plan to increase the size of its buried power network. It is not surprising either that the debate about burying them also comes up every once in a while in Canada after a storm causes millions in damages and leaves houses without power during the coldest season of the year.
Of course, in some areas, burying lines can be extremely challenging. This is one of the reasons why not all regions of Finland have the same percentage of buried lines. The questions remains, however: why not try to bury as many power lines as possible?
The obvious obstacle is simply money. Burying power lines is an expensive process, while leaving them hanging is much cheaper (at least on the short term).
It was estimated that burying all power lines in Toronto would cost up to 11 billion euros (approximately). And Hydro-Québec (the state-owned power company in Québec) estimated that 1km of power lines costs around 700 000 euros when buried, and 70 000 if not. This is why many citizens in Québec prefer their city not to bury them, in the fear that those costs will be reflected in their taxes.
On the other hand, the costs saved by burying lines are not negligible. This is actually one of the main elements behind the Finnish strategy. Although power outages still happen with underground power lines, they are much less frequent. A lower vulnerability to bad weather conditions also means less working hours lost to power outages, as well as less frequent repairs.
And this is even without mentioning the eyesore power lines are in a beautiful landscape…
All in all, I personally believe the score to be Finland: 1, Canada: 0. The longer-term planning of Finland is likely to prove beneficial on the long run, while the lack of any commitment by Canadian provinces (at least Québec and Ontario) to improving the situation is disappointing.
But what is your opinion on the subject?