Ever wonder what’s going on with those utility poles as you look up? Here are some quick insights to help you better understand what’s happening with your electricity
As one of the few lawyers in the United States to litigate electrocution death and serious injuries involving power lines and utility poles, when I look at a utility pole, what do I see (after thousands of hours in expert depositions and trial in these cases)?
1. Utility poles range in height
The utility poles in your neighborhood can range in height from 30- to 60-feet tall. The larger ones you see along major roads and highways measure from 60 feet to more than 120 feet in height.
The world’s tallest power line suspension towers, which flank the Yangtze River in Jiangyin, China, are 1,137 feet tall! Meanwhile, the standard height from the ground set by the Indian Electricity Rules is 20 feet high. But as I’ve written about, power line poles in India often sag much lower, causing wildlife like its majestic elephants to be electrocuted.
2. Many utility poles are several decades old
Most power poles are much older than their useful life expectancy, which is likely somewhere around 50 to 60 years. But some of them are much older. Metal and concrete poles can last much longer than wood, but eventually all utility poles need to be replaced.
This is something our attorneys often write about, as aging utility poles, especially wooden structures, can pose a serious electrocution hazard in older cities and neighborhoods when they have not been maintained. This has been the cause of many of the electrocution cases I have been involved in as an attorney. Sadly, electric power companies often put their bottom lines ahead of safety and extend the usual life expectancy of their structures, sometimes beyond what is safe and prudent.
In the Northeast, the average life of a distribution pole is 56 years old. Yet, some of these poles are still present for decades after this, some lasting for 85 years.
3. Utility pole wires carry more than just electricity
You may have noticed that utility poles have many wires. But not all carry electricity. Usually, the top three wires — which are called primary conductors — carry most of the electricity on the pole.
As you come down the utility pole, the next set of wires consists of secondary conductors. They typically deliver power to buildings and homes.
The lowest wires are cable and telephone lines. The cables you see connecting the pole to the ground are called “guy wires.”
4. Utility poles power lines can carry more than 100,000 volts
The amount of voltage carried along electricity wires – which are also called “conductors” – can range from a few thousand volts to more than 100,000 volts. Huge transmission lines, which are usually suspended from metal lattice towers or very tall concrete poles (you often see these in rural areas), may carry wires with 150,000 to 300,000 volts or more. Lines that connect to your home usually carry 120 or 240 volts.
5. Transformers provide just the right amount of power to your home and business
The barrels that look like oil drums or trash cans hanging off utility poles are called transformers. They’re used to lower the amount of voltage between the primary wires and secondary lines. Without transformers, there would be lots of fried household appliances.
Remember, there are an estimated 180 million utility poles around the United States today. Many of the facts above about these utility poles that dot the American landscape and line our roads and highways were inspired by a very interesting post on the Travel Guide.