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Re: Vegas pole pigs can't take the heat (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 6 Jul 2007 17:44:55 EDT
From: FIFTYGUY@xxxxxxx
To: tesla@xxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: Vegas pole pigs can't take the heat (fwd)

In a message dated 7/6/07 2:42:26 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
tesla@xxxxxxxxxx writes:

>It sounds to me like the said trans-

>formers in Las Vegas may have been a bit underrated to begin with  and/
>or they may have been toward the end of, or even past their useful  life 

>cycle and the current heat wave may have been the "straw that broke  
>the camel's back". Any more qualified  comments?

    I'd say it's the combined effect of several related  causes. The 
electrical infrastructure of the USA is still expanding and  changing. 
    Over the past few decades, manufacturing has been  declining 
(precipitously so in the past decade). These jobs have been replaced  by service 
industries. Factories and supportive industrial zones were usually  located near 
shipping routes (highways, rivers, rail lines, ports). But offices  and strip malls 
can go anywhere. 
    People have been buying houses like crazy. Again, a  housing development 
can be built just about anywhere. Those strip malls and  offices go 
hand-in-hand with the new housing. 
    People are also living longer. Perhaps because of  better quality 
healthcare being more widely available (affordable is another  issue!). More older 
people alive means they need more doctors to  *stay* alive. So more doctors, 
more lawyers and other service/support  industries (offices and strip malls). And 
they are staying in their houses  longer, so there are less houses available 
which means more new houses for  first-time buyers. 
    So the geographic distribution of electrical power  is getting more and 
more spread out, from heavy consumption in urban/industrial  centers, to all 
over the place - even remote rural areas. So this means *more*,  smaller 
distribution transformers to all these little loads.
    Las Vegas, for example, is a huge electrical  load in the middle of the 
desert. Even in Arizona, housing developments are  taking over desert land 
(right, D.C. Cox?). The irrigation and service  industries in these areas further 
decentralize the electrical loading in areas  further from the electricity 
    Existing power generating plants were built near  industrial centers. But 
we aren't willing to tolerate new nuclear plants, nor  does the population 
want to live next to a coal-burning power plant. Again,  power plants need to be 
built near transportation centers to bring in fuel, or  at least near a body 
of water for cooling (nuclear). If the houses, offices, and  strip malls are 
being built away from the power plants, more transmission and  distribution 
equipment is necessary to bring the power to the people.
    Fine, except the people *using* these loads have  nothing to do with 
producing the distribution equipment! Since factories in the  US are closing, the 
pole pigs and distribution equipment is increasingly being  made overseas. I 
see a lot of ABB brand distribution equipment here in the US,  and I would 
presume the quality is high. I *do* know Europeans tend to design  things with the 
smallest "service factor" possible, with the least amount of  copper (don't 
get me started!). And many "American" brands are having their  distribution 
equipment made in Mexico (don't get me started on *that*!) Either  way, the 
quality and/or robustness of foreign equipment is often not up to the  "old stuff" 
that many utilities could "count on" to take the abuse.
    There's also the side effect of fewer engineers in  the USA (because of 
less manufacturing and more service jobs), and the shift of  engineering duties 
to unqualified personnel. So we have people making decisions  about the 
distribution network who don't have the experience or credentials  necessary.
    I would *speculate* that many utilities are owned  by controlling 
interests that have no experience or knowledge about the  utilities business, and 
only treat their utilities according to profit margin,  not quality of service. 
    The materials cost of distribution equipment is  sky-high at the moment, 
due to the metal commodities used in their manufacture.  This puts pressure on 
both the manufacturer (to reduce safety margins/service  factors by using the 
least amount of material to remain competitive in pricing)  and on the 
engineer to keep project costs down (or the project won't happen, or  the job bid 
won't be awarded). So I would suspect increased use of refurbished  old 
transformers - but will fresh oil cure heat-damaged insulation? Diagnostics  to test 
or identify problems in electrical equipment continues to improve, but  it 
costs money and skilled personnel (more money). The lead time for  distribution 
equipment has drastically increased as well. So there's also the  result that 
more loads are put on existing equipment, instead of properly  upgrading it.
    I speak from experience in my neck of the woods,  that getting a utility 
to increase the size of a service because of an increase  in load demand is 
like pulling teeth. At my last two jobs, we increased the load  on old services 
significantly, with continuous demand (18+ hours a day/six days  a week). The 
utility refused to upgrade, and when they did, they ran service  conductors 
that were half the size they needed to be. It wasn't until we  threatened 
lawsuits over loss of service/factory production that we got to  explain to *real* 
engineers the situations and get them corrected. 
-Phil LaBudde   

Center for the Advanced Study of Ballistic  Improbabilities

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