Lowell Light & Power (LL&P) has nearly 1,500 poles in their service area. There’s more to these poles than having a place for electric lines. Other businesses also use these poles which are under the jurisdiction of Lowell’s electric company.
Most of the poles LL&P uses are typically 40-45 feet in length, with approximately six feet of the pole buried in the ground. However, regulations determine the pole height such as location and what will be attached. The oldest pole still in service in Lowell has been used for over 50 years. General Manager Steve Donkersloot says, “It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s closer to 60-70 years.” Regulations also determine how far apart wires should be attached to a pole and the order in which lines are placed.
Southern Yellow Pines are used for poles. The wood is pressure treated to help it withstand the elements. Each pole comes at a cost of $300 – $450 depending on the length and going rate of lumber at the time of purchase. Poles are depreciated started at their 25 year mark.
Squirrels are one of the main causes of non-weather related outages. The furry creatures like to climb poles and can be zapped if they decide to check out a transformer a bit too close, which can cause issues with electricity. Some poles in Lowell are starting to be fitted with black guards and flashings to combat the curious critters. Guards are wrapped around a pole similar to a PVC pipe being used as a squirrel baffle on a bird feeder. Flashings are used to protect transformer bushings. Poles with transformers have been the focus of this preventative care, but as other poles are serviced they too will be equipped with squirrel deterring equipment.
LL&P actively monitors the condition of poles to be proactive rather than needing to repair or replace infrastructure when a call from a customer is received. The utility is also working on numbering poles within its service area as a means of tracking condition, age, and other factors. Old poles which are taken out of use are either chipped up to dispose of or given away.
Third Party Attachments
LL&P owns the poles in their service area, however, other companies use the poles as well. Cable and telephone lines are the most often seen accompanying electric wires. Contracts are entered when another entity would like to attach something to a LL&P pole. The current annual fee is $3.74 per attachment per pole. The Federal Communications Commission determines this fee with newer contracts based on usable space, age of the pole being used, and maintenance.
If you’ve noticed, or perhaps now you will, coiled wire hanging near poles, it’s likely to be fiber. Excess is coiled up for future use. Unlike electric wiring, which can be spliced and put back together as a means of repair, this isn’t the case with fiber lines.
Standing Tall in Lowell
Utility poles are likely to be taken for granted or even dismissed. But they play an important role in infrastructure. They can be considered the bones of a utility body, connecting wires which provide important services to homes and businesses. In some areas, overhead wires are being put under ground for reasons including new construction, service upgrade and attaining a more pleasant look in areas such as downtown. Next time you’re out, take a closer look at utility poles and all of the components attached to them.