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FACT SHEET UNDERGROUNDING TRANSMISSION LINES

UNDERGROUND TRANSMISSION LINES IN BC


BC Transmission Corporation (BCTC) is responsible for operating, maintaining
and planning the provincially owned network of interconnected high-voltage
transmission lines. The transmission system carries electricity from where it is
generated to areas where it is needed. Electricity providers such as BC Hydro
then distribute the electricity at a lower voltage to homes and businesses.

High-voltage systems are mostly built above ground, and BC’s transmission
system is no exception. BCTC is responsible for a system comprising 18,165
kilometres of overhead transmission lines and 295 kms of submarine cables –
but only 140 kms of underground cables. Electric utilities generally install
transmission lines underground only in downtown areas where the absence of a
dedicated right-of-way makes overhead installation unfeasible. Underground
lines will also be installed if customers or communities are willing to pay the
associated costs.

Here are some issues that need to be taken into account when comparing
underground and overhead lines.

ENVIRONMENTAL AND VISUAL IMPACTS


While underground cables are less visible, transition structures including a
terminal tower, small building and other transmission equipment are required
where overhead lines join underground cables.

Both overhead and underground installations can impact the environment, and
impacts must be avoided or mitigated as much as possible. Because excavation
is far more extensive for underground installations, the impacts of installation
can potentially be higher.

TECHNICAL ISSUES
As electricity flows through conductors, it creates heat, which not only wastes
energy, but can damage the conductor. Overhead conductors are insulated and
cooled by the air surrounding them. Underground cables utilise special
insulating materials; however, this insulation tends to retain heat, so thicker
cables must be used.

After a certain length, high-voltage underground cables require above-ground


compensation stations to control line voltage and reduce energy losses. In
addition, because of lower capacity, two underground cables are sometimes
required to match the capacity of one overhead line.
FACT SHEET UNDERGROUNDING TRANSMISSION LINES

COST
The initial cost of an underground transmission line is five to 20 times more
than an equivalent overhead line. Reasons include:
Very high cost of insulated high-voltage cables, terminations, ducts and
lllmanholes.

Excavation costs, especially where the ground is rocky.

Installation difficulties due to traffic, existing structures and other


lllunderground utilities.

Costs for restoration of streets, other utilities and private properties.

SYSTEM RELIABILITY
Underground systems are not exposed to the elements or accidents like
overhead lines and structures. However, an underground fault can be harder to
locate and fix, resulting in longer outages and more costly repairs.

ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDS (EMF)


All electric equipment and appliances create electric and magnetic fields, which
are often referred to jointly as EMF. For more information on EMF, see our fact
sheet “Electromagnetic Fields.”

Electric Fields (EFs) vary with the line voltage. EFs measured at ground level
are less for underground cables than for overhead transmission lines because
EFs are s blocked by cable insulation and the ground.

Magnetic Fields (MFs) are caused by current flowing in cables and wires, and
decrease with the distance from the line. However, unlike EFs, MFs are not
blocked by insulation or the ground. Because the distance from the cable to
ground surface is far less than the distance of an overhead conductor to the
surface, MFs measured at ground level are higher from cables than from
overhead conductors.

ABOUT BCTC
BCTC is the independent Crown company accountable for the operations,
management and planning of BC Hydro’s high-voltage transmission
grid – including lines, cables and substations – and for ensuring open and
non-discriminatory access to the grid for all electricity producers.
For more information see www.bctc.com.

CONTACT
Community Relations 604.699-7300; Toll Free 1.866.647.3334
E-mail: community.relations@bctc.com