City Light says 3 spots ‘giving off voltage’ found in West Seattle

Two companies hired by Seattle City Light are continuing citywide testing for potentially dangerous electrical current, ever since a dog was electrocuted on Queen Anne, and another dog’s behavior helped authorities find an “energized” pole in High Point (as reported December 8th). City Light has been publishing frequent updates on its Power Lines website, and tonight’s update brings word of three spots detected in West Seattle:

# a streetlight pole and utility hole cover near 56th Avenue SW and SW Bradford Street [map] with 103 volts. A crew repaired a connector that was touching the pole and energizing it.

# a water cap near Fauntleroy Way SW and SW Edmunds Street [map] with 97 volts. Power was cut off and crews are determining the cause to begin work on a repair.

# a utility hole cover near Marine View Drive SW and 42nd Avenue SW [map] with 84 volts. Power was cut off and crews are determining the cause to begin work on a repair.

In all, the city says it has found 12 cases of “contact voltage” around the city so far, including these three and the one in High Point, and has tested 18 percent of streetlights and “associated facilities.”

15 Replies to "City Light says 3 spots 'giving off voltage' found in West Seattle"

  • you January 3, 2011 (8:40 pm)

    Wow, a lot of people walk near Fntlry and Edmunds to catch a bus or take their pooch out to potty. I wonder what water valve lid/general location is; does anyone know?

  • GJefferson January 3, 2011 (8:49 pm)

    In all the coverage of this, I’ve yet to see City Light provide any reason for all of these high-voltage plates and poles (budget cuts eliminated maintenance checks, or what?) or an explanation of how this compares to similar problems found in other cities. Also, what are we supposed to do? You know – safety tips. If we step on one of these wearing rubber-sole shoes, will the electricity transmit through or what?

    • WSB January 3, 2011 (10:14 pm)

      GJ, great questions. This came in too late today for any followup till tomorrow but I will ask. In the early cases – I was at the first news conference with SCL’s superintendent last month – the answer was usually something like, a frayed wire, and who knows how it came to be frayed … they were more focused on, how did this not get caught previously, and explaining that within a framework of noting they had checked all the poles recently during some other aspect of maintenance work … TR

  • bridge to somewhere January 3, 2011 (9:42 pm)

    Seattle’s infrastucture is really poor. The roads? Like something out of Mad Max. The power distribution system? Super fragile and ready to stop at the first sign of wind. Street lights and utility hole covers? Energized due to poor electrical connections. Major highway bridge deck downtown? Weakened and ready to collapse. There are no lack of excuses, but plenty of issues for a city I’d suspect most people in the US would assume is more put together than we are.

  • Wendy Hughes-Jelen January 3, 2011 (10:28 pm)

    I am really glad we got this whole thing pushed thru – and that the inspections were escalated. Who knew? It still boggles my mind. ALSO, this can’t be isolated just to Seattle. Does every city have electrified stuff just sitting there waiting to be touched or stepped on? Just how wide spread is this going to be?

    • WSB January 3, 2011 (10:41 pm)

      I know Wikipedia has its detractors but I tend not to be among them. That said, they have a page all about “stray voltage,” mentioning a New York death (human) in 2004 among some of the causes:

  • Scott January 3, 2011 (11:24 pm)

    Remember this when you vote next, our taxes pay for all this: lights, electrical grid, bridges, roads, parks, etc. Voting for tax increases to let us all live in a safer and more hospitable city is a good for everyone.

  • dsa January 3, 2011 (11:26 pm)

    103, 97, and 84 are strange voltages to be floating around. I hope the city offers a complete explanation other than that limp frayed wire thing like last time.

  • ltfd January 4, 2011 (12:01 am)

    “Does every city have electrified stuff just sitting there waiting to be touched or stepped on?”- Yes. Every city in the world with an electrical power distribution system, and attached public/private segments of that system, has ‘stray voltage’ present somewhere. That stray voltage can be present in public areas or on private property.
    “103, 97, and 84 are strange voltages to be floating around. I hope the city offers a complete explanation other than that limp frayed wire thing like last time.” – It’s actually physics that offers the explanation. The listed voltages are ‘partial leaks’ from the higher system voltage; an imperfect circuit, resisting the flow of electricity to ground, is present.
    Voltage is electric pressure, like water pressure in a pipe. Whereas water in a pipe needs a hole or a break to escape, electricity needs a path to “ground” (the earth is “ground”) to escape from the electrical wiring. Normally, electrical systems are insulated to prevent voltage from escaping- plastic insulation for lower voltage wires, suspension in the air (via insulators & poles) for higher voltage wires. If components of electrical equipment (light poles, utility boxes & covers, circuit breaker panels, etc.) are properly grounded, any electrical ‘leaks’ (improper connections, damage from the environment, human error) will go to ground- without going through someone who touches the ‘leak’.
    With enough sleuthing, we could find stray voltage present at any business or home. The danger with stray voltage increases with the electric pressure present (higher voltage). We probably each touch minor stray voltage many times a year, however, our dry skin or shoes provide enough insulation that electricity doesn’t flow through us. Any of us could sit on a one million volt energized wire (like birds do), but if the electricity flows through us, to ground, we are in trouble.

  • velo_nut January 4, 2011 (7:27 am)

    You get what you pay for…

  • sophista-tiki January 4, 2011 (8:46 am)

    “you get what you pay for” then feel free to pay more. I already pay plenty in taxes all around.

    I was wondering if the person who lost their dog was compensated in any way?

  • stb January 4, 2011 (9:38 am)

    ltfd–Thank you for the thorough explanation. It is very helpful.

  • Yardvark January 4, 2011 (9:39 am)

    Thankfully, I’ve heard this whole “getting electrocuted by a streetlight” problem won’t affect individuals earning over $250,000 or couples earning over $400,000. As long as they are okay….

  • Bob Guilliams January 5, 2011 (1:34 am)

    My company makes distribution poles and crossarms from pultruded fiberglass. While the initial cost is more, they are non-conductive, and would eliminate this problem. With their extended service life, they actually cost less than competing products over the long haul. They are also ‘greener’, and contain no toxic preservatives to leach and contaminate the ground water.

    Developed in the U.S., and widely accepted elsewhere, we in this country have yet to fully embrace their advantages.

  • 35this35mph January 5, 2011 (1:38 pm)

    Wow! It turned into a shillportunity!

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