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Re: [RFI] Electric Company Problem

To: rfi@contesting.com
Subject: Re: [RFI] Electric Company Problem
From: "Frank N. Haas" <kb4t@arrl.net>
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2005 07:08:01 +0000
List-post: <mailto:rfi@contesting.com>
Fellow RFI'ers:

I am an Interference Investigator for a large electric utility. I've been 
reading this thread with interest as it directly relates to my profession.

One fellow early on in the thread inquired about striking poles with a 
sledge hammer. Bad idea...period. Nothing like having shrapnel or debris 
fall on your head. You simply cannot assume that everything up there is 
solidly anchored or in good condition. Even if you are wearing a "hard hat" 
you can still be injured by falling debris. I'm sure you would not 
appreciate a power company employee coming to your house and banging on 
your property with a big hammer. Power distribution facilities are not your 
property and are strictly off limits. Never strike them with anything. You 
might have to pay for the damage you cause...once you are released from the 
hospital and/or jail!

If power line noise is a chronic problem for you, I encourage you to equip 
yourself with something suitable with which to locate the source. The MFJ 
product modified to allow use of a directional antenna and an attenuator is 
a great idea. The attenuator is very important. When I'm out hunting I find 
that 20 to 30 dB is plenty of attenuation for most situations. I like to 
use an Icom T-90A which is a DC to light AM capable handheld. I can listen 
and watch as I move the antenna. Listening is easier and faster. I start at 
a fairly low frequency and go higher and higher as I get closer and closer 
to the source. When I can hear the interference at 400+ MHz, I know I'm 
very, very close.

If you do think you have located the source, make note of any numbers on 
the pole and offer them to the customer service person who takes your call 
for help. When the investigator finally gets around to calling or meeting 
you, offer the information. Keep in mind, however, that the investigator is 
obligated to confirm for him/herself where the source is located.

Most important is your attitude. Your patience will be tested. You must 
remain polite, courteous and understanding. As I wrote here recently, most 
power companies give interference complaints fairly low priority. 
Income-producing work gets done first and the interference investigations 
and resolutions get done "when there's time." Since most power companies 
operate with minimal people, time to get interference issues completed is 
scarce. Despite the unbelievable (and, frankly, unjustified) delays, you 
must remain polite, courteous and understanding. If you get angry, 
unpleasant or belligerent you risk suffering with your problem for a much 
longer time. If you don't feel you are being treated properly, consider 
getting help from the state public utility commission.

It can be very rewarding to develop the skill of DF'ing noise sources. 
Don't be surprised to find that many devices produce interference. Many of 
these sound like power line interference. Just about anything that consumes 
electricity and has a switch or oscillator is capable of interfering with 
your enjoyment of HF and VHF. When I visit a ham's home I often take my 
T-90a for a walk around the house tuned to 80M in AM mode. The microwave 
oven and other appliances equipped with a microprocessor often produce some 
very interesting noises. Switching power supplies can be a real serious 
source of interference. Being able to "clear" your own home first can save 
time and aggravation. 50% of the interference sources I find are NOT power 
line related or caused.

If you are convinced the problem is not caused by something in your home or 
on your property, make the call to customer service and get the ball 
rolling. Call your power company and ask for an interference investigation. 
My employer does not charge customers for interference investigations...no 
matter how long it takes...even if the problem ends up being something in 
your home and not in any way related to the power lines. If the service is 
free, take advantage of it. Your request should at least imply that the 
power lines are causing interference to your equipment :-)

Please keep in mind: Interference investigators come in a wide variety of 
effectiveness. Some are very skilled and highly motivated and care a great 
deal about your issue. Some are just the opposite. You have to take what 
you get. If you don't like it, there's little that can be done except 
perhaps to ask for another investigator.  You can usually tell very easily 
who is skilled and cares. Ideally, your investigator will be an active 
Amateur Radio Operator with an extensive background in RFI location.

More things to remember: The FCC is not your friend. Don't waste your time 
calling the FCC about interference issues. Unless you are another 
governmental agency, public safety agency, congressman or senator, the FCC 
will do nothing to help you solve your interference issue. They will always 
refer you to someone else. Their actions re: BPL should clearly show you 
they care nothing about RF pollution. The ARRL is a good resource but 
should be the third call you make after the power company and your state 
utility commission.

Keep good records. Log your interference occurrences. Patterns can be very 
helpful in locating the source. If you call in the pro's, get names and 
phone numbers. Log their visits, phone calls and actions. If you need to 
call in reinforcements, good records grease the skids.

Resolving interference usually tries one's patience. I wish there were some 
magic incantation that could speed the resolution process. As a fellow ham 
and power company employee I am both troubled and embarrassed by how long 
it takes my employer to resolve these issues. Follow my advice and it will 
get solved as quickly as is bureaucratically possible.

Back to lurking mode...


Frank N. Haas KB4T

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