New York Street Lights Carry High Stray Voltage

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - Be careful where you put your hands - tests found stray voltage five times more often on New York City street-light poles than on those checked by upstate utilities, according to a Public Service Commission report.

The hazardous currents were found 6,000 times on the city's 176,000 light poles in 2005 and 2006 - a number equal to 3.5 percent of all the city's light poles, says Con Ed data reported by the commission.

By comparison, it was found just 947 times on the 134,000 upstate poles.

"Stray voltage found on streetlights continues to be a major concern, particularly in Con Edison's service territory," the PSC report said.

Reports of dangerously high stray voltage levels increased on Con Ed-maintained poles in 2006.

But Con Ed claims the increase is proof it is more diligent than its upstate counterparts. "We're testing more than everybody else," said spokesman Michael Clendenin.

The state, however, says it was concerned that Con Ed cut inspections last year because workers were diverted by last summer's nine-day Queens blackout. Those inspections are back on track, Con Ed says.

The utility also claims comparisons between the city and upstate are unfair because more wooden light poles are used outside the Big Apple.

"It's apples and oranges," said another Con Ed spokesman, Alfonso Quiroz. But that argument doesn't cut it with Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), a staunch Con Ed critic whose constituents were hit by last year's blackout.

"There's always an excuse other than 'we did something wrong,' " Gianaris said. "They are the land of a thousand excuses - anything from a stray bolt of lightning to 'our poles are not made of wood' to whatever."

Two years ago, the city began covering the lower part of the poles with nonconductive paint. It's also installing voltage indicators that light up if a current is detected.

The state report also says Con Ed-owned street-level boxes and other electrical equipment was twice as likely to have stray voltage as similar equipment upstate.

Utility regulators put new emphasis on checking for stray voltage after the 2004 death of Jodie Lane, who was electrocuted when she stepped on a street box in the East Village that Con Ed admitted was improperly maintained.


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