The power supply in rural areas has become more stable over the past eight years, thanks to a scheme by CLP Power to replace overhead cables with ones that run underground, among other upgrades. The scheme has benefited more than 100,000 households, who mostly relied on overhead lines and pole-mounted transformers for their electricity, the power supplier said, though land ownership issues in the villages continue to obstruct improvement works. Above-ground equipment is more prone to bad weather and interference by people and animals. The company said the number of power blackouts last year dropped by 40 per cent from 2000. The time lost to an outage was also slashed from nearly 29 minutes in 2000 to about 2.7 minutes last year. It said about 350 households in Mai Po village, where improvements were completed early last year, were not hit by a single outage during the year, compared with two to three times a year before. Under the scheme, overhead cables and outdoor transformers are replaced with underground cables as far as possible. If a replacement is not feasible, a covered substation is built to house the facilities and shield them from bad weather. A system that helps off-site engineers identify fault locations in case of a blackout and restore supply promptly has also been introduced; so has a ring circuit that allows villagers to receive electricity from multiple sources. Ng Kai-ching, CLP Power's regional manager for the north, said underground cables were the most reliable in transmitting electricity but were not always the most cost-effective, particularly in villages with few inhabitants. And villagers needed to approve of the improvements before they could be carried out, he said. Some villagers had strongly objected to the construction of new facilities located on private sites. Reasons often concerned scattered land ownership, fung shui and aesthetic considerations, and sometimes disputes among villagers. In one case, CLP Power had asked to place a facility on a piece of private road that was owned by 17 people. All except one agreed, and the improvement plan had been scuttled, he said. 'Unlike some overseas power utilities which have the legal power to occupy a private site for building facilities, we don't have such power since we are a commercial enterprise. [Because of this] we are required to go through all the statutory processes,' he said.