A Smarter Idea

Ten years ago today is one no Memphian will forget. It was the day the bow echo or derecho or Hurricane Elvis – whateve name you prefer – swept through our city. In less than a half an hour Memphis resembled a war zone from Downtown to Collierville.

Nearly half a million people lost power. For some it was 3 days, others 11, others 21. We’re not talking about rural areas either. Everywhere. No one who endured it can forget the happy moment when the lights came on, the air conditioner kicked in and appliances started whirring.

It took MLGW almost a month to get every customer back online. That was with the help of utility companies from other parts of the country.

Because the next day saw the capture and killing of Saddam Hussein’s sons, the national news media didn’t give us much coverage. Geraldo Rivera and Shep Smith (even though he’s from nearby Oxford, Ms.) did not go to a shelter and ask when FEMA would come or stand outside pressing the urgency of the situation. Our own mayor was absent for a long time. We were pretty much on our own. As Southerners we are used to it.

People made the best of it. Neighbors in Midtown got our their grills and started cooking what they had in their refrigerators and shared it. Some lined a truck bed with plastic and filled it with water to give the kids some relief. Everywhere was the sound of chainsaws at work, freeing up streets from fallen trunks and cutting down big limbs.

MLGW says it has worked to stop power outages from happening again as best they can. But, we still have wires hanging from poles across the city. Memphians haven’t given up their love for big trees and their shade. Branches hang perilously close to wires, especially in Midtown.

So why doesn’t MLGW take the money it wants to spend for smart meters and start placing wires underground? Many areas of the country do this. It works and saves billions annually in repairs, not to mention preventing the emotional and physical toll it takes on people. During our incident, seven people died directly from the storm. But how many people died from the stress related to the event? Those are the numbers we will never know and they won’t tell us. I believe that my own father’s death, about six weeks after Hurricane Elvis, was spurred by the heat and stress he endured.

Instead, MLGW wants to go for smart meters. If you look at cost alone, it is staggering. They don’t like to talk about the final cost; someone has imagined $250 million, but from experience, that lowball number will probably be doubled. Even now they want $10 million for 60,000 smart meters. They want ultimately to install more than a million of them. You do the math. Even from MLGW’s figures, no break even point will be reached for about 25 years.

Wouldn’t it be smarter to put the power underground? People would be spared, businesses could continue operating and billions in property damage prevented. It would mean more employment here, too.

Wouldn’t that really be the smart thing to do?

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