By: Michael Reiter, Former Town of Palm Beach Police Chief.
Although today I am a property owner, resident and business owner in the Town of Palm Beach, I was previously the chief of the Palm Beach Police Department during Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 and Wilma in 2005.
The Town’s police, fire-rescue and public works departments worked very closely with FPL and out of state electric crews to restore power to the island and experienced first hand the differences between aboveground and underground utilities.
I also observed over many years, numerous situations of both widespread and localized loss of electrical service resulting from flooding, high winds, vehicle crashes, structure fires, and other causes.
A few parts of Palm Beach had underground electrical service since the early 1980’s including when the hurricanes struck in 2004 and 2005. Even though there was flooding during the hurricanes, there was no loss of electrical service caused by the underground portion of the electrical system.
On the other hand, I have observed the aboveground electrical service disrupted hundreds of times over the years by numerous weather events, vehicle crashes, fires, fallen tree limbs, lightning strikes and even small animals interacting with pole mounted transformers.
It may be accurate that when underground electrical service fails, it is sometimes more difficult to repair than aboveground service but failures of underground electrical service are so rare that they are a minor factor in the comparison.
Very few new developments or communities being built or planned today use aboveground electrical distribution systems and there are excellent reasons why that is the case, many of which apply to our situation.
Based on observing the situation first hand in our own community, for public safety reasons alone, a barrier island subject to high winds and flooding is far better served by an underground electrical system as compared to an aboveground electrical distribution network.