5 Things You Didn’t Know About Utility Poles

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Did you know Consumers Energy owns and operates nearly 68,000 miles of electric distribution lines? That’s enough to circle the globe 2.7 times. With nearly as many utility poles to carry the lines as we have customers, here are five things you may not know:

  1. Invented in the mid-19th century, utility poles were originally used to carry telegraph wires. As electricity became a demand across the U.S., poles were equipped with insulators to carry power lines.
  2. A standard wood utility pole goes through an extensive life cycle:
    • Trees are harvested from standard tree varieties and cut to standard lengths, removing unusable limbs and tops.
    • Logs are moved to a processing point in a flatbed truck.
    • Logs are debarked, shaped and cut into specific dimensions.
    • Poles are air-dried for 9 months to a year in preparation for a preservative coating.
    • Poles are treated to keep away birds, insects, fungi and fires.
    • Poles are installed and have a lifespan of about 25 to 50+ years, depending on climate.
  3. Utility poles often carry multiple wires, although not all carry electricity. For those that carry electricity:
    • The top three wires are primary conductors carrying the majority of the electricity.
    • The next set of wires serve as secondary conductors delivering power to homes and businesses.
    • The lowest wires are communication wires carrying cable and telephone lines.
  4. The barrel shaped drums on utility poles, called transformers, help determine the right amount of energy to power your home or business. If a transformer is flooded with too much electricity, such as a lightning strike, it can cause a failure or explosion. Although the transformers contain protective circuits to shut off the system in the case of a voltage surge, safety measures can take up to 60 milliseconds to deploy and may not be fast enough to prevent the transformer from blowing. (A typical lightning bolt moves at about 3,700 miles per second.)
  1. Customers are encouraged to NOT attach tacks, nails or staples to utility poles for safety and preservation reasons.
    • Utility poles contain electrical wires, therefore, customers are at risk of fatal electrocution if they attach signs.
    • Staples, tacks, nails and other similar items can puncture line workers’ personal protective equipment when they climb poles, rendering the gear ineffective to live wires.
    • Holes and punctures can cause utility poles to rot faster due to the preservative coating being compromised.

Learn how we’re delivering reliable energy to your home and business by visiting ConsumersEnergy.com/reliability. If you see a downed power line in your area, stay at least 25 feet away and immediately call 9-1-1 and us at 800-477-5050.

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