While the intent of the Telecommunica-tions Act of 1996 was not to saddle utilities with a burdensome challenge, the result often has manifested itself in just that way. The Telecommunications Act makes it clear that every business that has poles must stand ready to be approached by joint users. While the law allows a utility to refuse to share its poles, such refusal must be based on solid engineering calculations that take into account all physical considerations and stresses on the poles.
An overloaded pole illustrates the burdensome problem associated with joint use.Click here to enlarge image
To utilities already dealing with shrinking budgets and labor resources, such demands can be overwhelming. But one U.S. utility has found itself well-equipped to comply with the joint use issue thanks to a software package designed specifically to address the challenge.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, American Electric Power (AEP) controls distribution facilities that serve approximately 4.8 million customers in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Like every other major utility, the joint use issue immediately changed the way AEP did business.
“The new law has required AEP to look at an existing situation in a new way,” said Jim Salerno, a senior engineer within AEP’s distribution business unit. “Previously, when a joint user proposed to attach to a pole, the technician was hard pressed to determine if the pole strength was adequate and respond back in a timely manner. When you have only one telephone and one cable company requesting to attach to a pole, in most cases, the loadings on the poles were probably going to be OK.
“But with the new law and the opening up of our poles to as many communications companies and energy providers as the markets can support, the integrity of the poles could come into question if all these joint users attached,” Salerno said. “As multiple joint users started arriving, we began to realize that the poles were being overloaded structurally-even if there was sufficient clearance available. We needed a better way to determine if each pole was structurally able to handle the additional loads imposed on it by these extra conductors.
“Additionally, when you have a new joint user request to attach, the user doesn’t just want to attach to one pole. They might want to attach to every pole in a community-perhaps hundreds of poles.”
Each contract for a joint user has within it a time frame in which the utility must respond to the requesting party. The decision to carry the additional conductors and wires must be made within that contractual deadline. Failure to do so can result in penalties.
“If you don’t meet your joint use obligations, the other party has legal recourse that they can take,” Salerno said. “But you hope it never gets to that. It’s kind of tough working with somebody when they’re suing you.”
AEP’s Finds Familiar Solution
Realizing a better process had to be found, AEP contacted a vendor with which they had established a previous relationship.
“AEP had already been using LD-Pro, an automated line design optimization program from LineSoft,” Salerno said. “When I joined this project in late ’98 AEP had already entered into a partnership to test and use their new LD-Field software.”
LineSoft, of Spokane, Wash., created LD-Field as a comprehensive software tool to perform strength and clearance analyses on existing and proposed facilities for joint use attachment. A field technician can use LD-Field to take into account structural factors such as line tension, wind, weight loading and soil conditions. Clearance analysis includes factors like temperature, ice and wind loading
Field personnel can interface LD-Field with their utility’s AM/FM/GIS system. The software accepts visual evaluation information-occasionally aided with the use of laser measuring devices-field notes and also digital photos. Variables taken into account include: attachment points for conductors and service drops; conductor size and configurations; spans ahead, back and “to service,” along with their respective line angles; and pole ground-line circumference.
In seconds, the application delivers results in both tabular and graphical formats. A utilization report showing the percent of pole, guy, and anchor capacity used by each attachment, as well as deflection, shear and moment diagrams for each structure under all load cases, can be arrived at even while in the field. By generating a scale profile view of every structure and its attachments, the report differentiates between existing and proposed conditions. Thus, by concisely analyzing and modeling the ramifications of each and every attachment, a utility can identify potential overload conditions. This provides the utility with unarguable documentation upon which to base its carry/no carry decisions.
“Once we began implementing LD-Field, we trained a group of our field personnel who are dispersed throughout our organization to utilize the program,” Salerno said. “For example, we have people at our regional and district offices who are in direct contact with joint users-cable companies, telecos and their counterparts. These field personnel are the ones that end up getting contacted first. If a project comes along within their area of geographic responsibility, they can take care of it using LD-Field.
“Some of these projects involve hundreds of poles,” Salerno said. “Depending on the scope of the project, conditions in the field, and available resources, in some cases I could ultimately end up getting that request so as not to bog down those people in the field. Then I would end up using LD-Field to do an analysis.
“In either case, there are a number of different paths for us to get the necessary data. One is that the AEP employee closest to the request goes out and gathers the data and completes the analysis or they forward it to the regional office for analysis. Occasionally we have the joint user who is requesting the attachment gather the data for us. We do a normal auditing of their work to make sure that their data and observations are accurate.”
Automated Software in Practice
Once the data is gathered, LD-Field can save utility staff from making trips out to the field every time a request comes in. Comprehensive electronic maps pinpoint possible trouble spots, even those aside from joint use issues, before driving to the site. For example, design engineers can rely on accurate map-based structures to build new projects or supply additional customers.
“After setting up the database, it becomes simply a matter of accessing it for any given project,” Salerno said.
For each pole, the number of conductors and the conductor characteristics are entered in advance. Additional equipment, such as a transformer or capacitor, is also included in the database. If the pole is at a corner, the software takes into account guys and anchors. Sub-categories include primaries, neutrals, secondaries, other voltage levels and wire size.
“The way ours is set up, it goes through a map view,” Salerno said. “With data layered into our maps you can click on poles along the route proposed by the attach
“People who are utilizing this are just pointing and clicking,” Salerno continued. “The software crunches the numbers for you.”
Automated tools, such as the LD-Field software, generate comprehensive utilization reports that identify the exact percent of pole use for each attach
“Before LD-Field, there were a lot of assumptions made,” Salerno said. “This program came along and enabled us to make the necessary calculations. It allows us to accurately analyze the strengths of a pole based on the forces being imposed on it in timely fashion.”
The Increase of Joint Use
The regulatory, engineering and business challenges of dealing with joint use bring increased liability, costs and customer service pressures for utilities everywhere. Decisions must be made quickly so as not to jeopardize short- or long-term operating budgets. Automated tools enable utility management to make accurate and quick judgments about their ability to handle requests for joint usage-both from a physical standpoint and financial.
“It would be difficult to meet our contractual obligations in a timely manner without LD-Field,” Salerno said. “Its use at AEP is growing almost daily. As AEP continues the rollout of LD-Field more technicians are using the program and are excited about what it accomplishes for them.”