Connecticut Has 900,000 Utility Poles and is Aiming to Force Companies to Maintain them

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STAMFORD — People walking their dogs sometimes stopped to take note of the utility pole leaning over Bon Air Avenue.

The rotting pole – which was considerably thinner at the top, where the equipment was attached – angled sharply toward the street. 

It will break during the next storm, the dog walkers said. 

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When it falls, the neighborhood will lose power for hours, they said. 

A call was made to the city, they said, but it seemed to go nowhere, and no one was sure who to call next.

They hoped no one would get hurt.

So it went in a mid-city Stamford neighborhood for a year, and another year after that. Then, last year, a crew arrived to replace the declining pole and a handful of others nearby.

But there are many more poles in similar shape – in that neighborhood, in Stamford, and Connecticut-wide.

In November, complaints from the Hartford-area towns of Avon and Simsbury spurred the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to set standardized procedures that utility companies must follow to identify and replace dangerous utility poles. 

Photographs submitted with the complaints filed from Avon and Simsbury show broken poles on the side of the road, and a pole that split near its base and was held up by a brace nailed to an adjacent pole.

PURA officials last month announced the new procedures, which require compliance by the utility companies that own the poles – including Eversource Energy, United Illuminating, Verizon and Frontier Communications – and companies licensed to hang attachments on the poles – including Altice, AT&T, Charter Communications and Comcast.

Before, the companies followed their own procedures.

Now, companies that receive a complaint from a utility customer or through PURA’s Office of Education, Outreach & Enforcement must inspect the potentially dangerous pole within 48 hours, and remove structurally compromised poles within 10 days.

The new regulations come with penalties. If poles identified as problems fail before they are replaced, PURA will prohibit the utility company from recovering the costs through rate hikes, and may impose civil penalties.

Beyond that, PURA officials will be checking up on the companies. Starting next week, utility companies must allow PURA’s Office of Education, Outreach & Enforcement and the state’s Office of Consumer Counsel to monitor their internal reporting systems on problematic poles.

PURA spokesman Joe Cooper said Monday the agency toughened its stance in 2019, when Gov. Ned Lamont appointed a new PURA chair, Marissa Gillett. It’s a recognition of the critical role of utility poles in delivering electric, telecommunications and cable services, Cooper said.

“An equitable modern electric grid is a priority, which requires reliable and resilient infrastructure,” Cooper said.

Lamont’s administration and state legislators set a “goal of attaining universal access to broadband, as well as the widespread deployment of 5G technologies,” Cooper said, making “the role of utility poles … even more critical.”

PURA has “redoubled efforts over the past few years to work through pole safety and access issues,” Cooper said.

Last year, Eversource, Verizon, Frontier and United Illuminating replaced more than 580 poles that were “deteriorated, unsafe, or in immediate danger of falling,” according to PURA. 

The poles were identified by customers, “by the utility or its contractor in the normal course of business,” or during installation of telecommunications equipment, Cooper said.

But Connecticut has 900,000 utility poles, and caring for them is complex.

Most poles are jointly owned by the electric utility serving a given area and Frontier, Cooper said. One of the two acts as pole custodian, he said.

On top of that, some equipment fixed to poles belongs to licensees – companies and some municipalities certified to provide telecommunications and cable services, Cooper said.

All of that complicates erection of new poles and removal of old ones. In Connecticut, thousands of old poles stand decaying beside their replacements. 

The reason is that it takes time to identify the owner of equipment hanging on an old pole and then have that company transfer it to the new pole, Cooper said. The custodian of the old pole can’t remove it until that’s done, he said.

PURA is considering a recommendation that would have “one or more contractors who are licensed and capable of moving all of the attachments in one visit,” Cooper said.

Double poles can obstruct sidewalks and block the line of sight for motorists, especially at intersections. The deteriorating poles pose a greater risk of falling.

“Efficient transfer of attachments and removal of the old pole preserve public safety with the goal of installing poles that are reliable and resilient against weather events and other types of hazards,” Cooper said.

Utility customers often are the ones to flag pole dangers.

They may call Eversource or United Illuminating or Frontier, Cooper said, which “may initiate the process sooner.” 

But PURA welcomes customers to email the agency at PURA.Information@ct.gov and include location of the pole by street and closest cross-street; and, if possible, a photo of the pole and the time and date the photo was taken.

PURA staff will track down the pole custodian and route the complaint to the right place, Cooper said. Utility customers may call PURA’s service center at 1-800-382-4586 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, he said.

In the meantime, consider the warning that was passed among dog walkers on Bon Air Avenue.

Don’t get close to that pole.


Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.

a.carella@ctexaminer.com