FDR is Back to Haunt Us: Why You Need to Revisit Your SLAs and KPIs

Much like in the DC area right now, a hundred years ago, a good portion of the USA outside of urban areas was without electricity and lay dark unless lit by gas, kerosene or candle. On May 11, 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 7037, establishing the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) with the end of making electricity available throughout the country. In reality, even today there are considerable parts of this large country that are still off-grid. For example, in far Northern California, once you get an hour or so inland from the coast, electrical service can be spotty.

That aside, having grown up in northern Europe, I was used to power lines being buried, so the extensive use of aerial power distribution here in the US always struck me as a little odd. Even if it costs more to bury lines, sending out repair crews every time there's an ice storm (not to mention the loss of comfort, business downtime and waste of perishable foods when the power goes out), the operating expense with aerials seemed so high.

A while back, my local utility, Greystone Electric, a fine service provider, came out to quote an upgrade to my electrical service, and I asked for numbers for continued aerial service as well as for underground service. The price difference was quite substantial, and when I asked how they could cost justify this, they told me that aerial service is reimbursed under the REA, whereas buried electrical service gets no subsidies at all!

So there you go, FDR's ghost has been with us all these years -- we have sent taxpayer's money to subsidize an approach that was probably the only option in the 1930s but now leads to higher operating costs and greater inconvenience. That's the danger with isolating consumers, not from electricity, but from the true cost picture. This sounds like one subsidy that we can all do without.

Take this as a lesson learned when you set up long term contracts with vendors -- what makes sense initially might be completely counterproductive over the longer haul.

- Thomas Kase

Voices (4)

  1. Thomas Kase:

    A tenacious rodent indeed. 🙂

    If we focus on the power company, which is the topic at hand – they operate under the NEC, and have far more stringent rules around its wiring, conduits and panels than low voltage operators like the cable and phone companies. That’s not to say that vermin can’t cause problems, but again, it’s backhoes that are #1 for below ground. Can we pour some Warfarin on this thread now?

  2. Hungry Underground Rodent:

    Obviously you have never opened one of those pretty green cabinets that sprout in the middle of developments with underground cabling. It’s educational, believe me.

    And, I would also guess that you haven’t noticed how difficult it is for some other provider (cough Verizon cough) to add (cough FIOS cough) service to a development that is "already wired for cable."

  3. Thomas Kase:

    @Rodent: Actually, backhoes would be the #1 actual challenge – thus the many CALL-BEFORE-YOU-DIG utility hotlines around the country.

    The items on your list aren’t issues of real concern – that’s what conduits even direct burial rated wires are used for. Earlier electrical code permitting (un-fused) live lines inside structures can be an issue with rodents like squirrels.

    The main point with the piece is around presenting end-users with a true cost picture – secondarily that cementing methods rather than goals in your SLAs and KPIs can have unintended consequences.

  4. Hungry Underground Rodent:

    Buried cables are not a panacea. Bugs, rodents, moisture, crosstalk, flooding (even high water table), you name it — all deeply problematic.

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