Look Up!

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Walk around any neighborhood and look up.  Chances are you’ll see a utility pole with wires and other equipment. And for good reason. Utility poles dot the landscape of every town around the state and most of the country. They form the highway above us that keeps everyday life in order.  In fact, there are about 180 million utility poles across the United States – that’s about one pole for every other person in the country.

Utility poles have been around since the mid-1800s when they were originally erected to carry telegraph wires. The rise of electricity brought a new use to the poles. Outfitted with insulators, the poles could carry electricity from generating stations to individual homes and businesses.  Today these poles are still the backbone of our electrical grid.

Ever wonder how the poles support the delivery of electricity or what these poles hold? Here’s your guide to the anatomy of a pole and some interesting facts you may not already know about them.

PSE&G has 848,876 poles across its service territory. That many poles end to end could stretch from the east coast to the west coast and back again! Eighty  percent of PSE&G’s electric distribution system is located overhead on pole or tower-mounted construction. The remaining twenty percent are located underground.

Poles come in different sizes.  Utility poles can range in size from 30 feet to over 100 feet and are typically 100 or 125 feet apart. The most common PSE&G pole is 40 feet and sinks six feet into the ground.

Power lines are not the only wires on a pole.  Wires at the top of the pole deliver your electricity and belong to PSE&G. Wires below the electric portion  deliver your telephone, cable TV and fiber optic services and are owned by those providers.

Transformers help provide the right amount of power for your home or business.  The big barrel that looks like an oil drum is the transformer that reduces voltage so customers can use it. Transformers bring the electricity down to a safe level – enabling our  appliances to work properly.

Power lines don’t actually touch the poles. Instead, insulators – the things that look like dinner plates or cups attached to the line — prevent energized wires from contacting each other. And remember, that if a wire ever comes down, stay away and call PSE&G to report it right away.

Each pole has its own tag. The pole tag located near the bottom of the pole, shows the unique pole number.If you see a damaged pole, make sure to take note of the number on the tag when reporting it to PSE&G so we can track it. If a tag number is not available, please provide the nearest address or landmark.

Poles are made of wood and are recycled when taken out of use. Most utility poles in the United States are made of southern yellow pine and have a life of approximately 25 to 50 years.  Once they’ve reached their useful lives, poles are burned for energy or recycled dependent on the material used.

So next time you turn on the lights, it’s not magic; it’s that pole outside that safely provides electricity at the flip of a switch.

John A. Bridges- Vice President Electrical Operations, PSE&G

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