Wednesday 2 October 2019

Chopper chopper

We live remote - you can't get further from a bus stop and still be in the province of Leinster - and 300m up a bucketty gravel lane. When we moved here 23 years ago, we ordered in a fixed line telephone; because that was the only sensible way of calling the emergency services if a zombie apocalypse manifested itself on the yard. We also revived the existing electricity supply which had been installed in the 1960s under the roll-out of the Shannon (Rural Electrification) Scheme.

Electric. The ESB semi-state electrical utility's policy was that the customer had to pay for the infrastructure for new lines but that maintenance of lines was their responsibility. Their asset management manager inspected the line and the two poles that were actually on our property and decided to upgrade the 30 y.o. poles. They would have taken these unrottable tar impregnated trunks away; but they were just as happy to leave them with us and even cut them into convenient 2.5m lengths. One of these pieces became, and still serves as, our main entryway gate-post. Once in 20 years they came up to trim down the hawthorn Crataegus monogyna hedge through which the line travelled but I have been up on a ladder a couple of times when the light-questing twigs are small enough to lop.

Telephone. In 1996, Eircom was in the process of being divested from government control so that private individuals could get super-rich in the media communications business. There was still the mindset of a public utility and any new customer could get service for a ?£125? connexion fee: whether that connexion was merely flipping a switch on a computer at head-office OR, as it our case, erecting 4 telegraph poles and stringing 350m of copper wire from the road to the house. That landline has been of intermittent utility in recent years. When service breaks occur, at least two utilities - essentially hardware / network and software - will try to shirk responsibility, so its several days before we get re-connected. At least part of the problem is that a trimmish 1990s Leylandia hedge on a neighbouring property has been allowed to grow to a leggy jungle through which the telephone wire must thread.

New management on the neighbouring farmstead decided to clear fell the Leylandia and let a little light into the yard. The noise of chainsaws and crashing timber soon coincided with a complete break in telephone service. I was delighted! because Eir the network utility will fix breaks in telephone lines from whatever cause and absorb the cost. Now the wire is free to undulate in the wind it will last longer.

This primed me for an interesting discussion about maintaining the assets of wire-based utilities. At least some of the California wildfires in the disastrous 2018 season (750,000 ha, 100 people, and $3,500,000,000 went up in smoke) were due to tinder-dry trees falling against live high-voltage electricity cables. It is up to the utility to minimise the chance of this happening, mainly by trimming back vegetation from the wired right of way. Did they ever do this by sending up tree-surgeons? I guess you could make a wide fire-break corridor by clear-felling trees as they got taller. Now it is done by banks of fearsome rotary saws lofted along by helicopters. The operators can clear 30km of branches in a 48 hour work week. Surely, it cannot be legal or sensible to allow a chopper pilot to work such long hours so close to 1 million volts?
Helitopper to lower the height of danger trees [DT technical term] from above. DTs are trees which are tall enough to impact the power-line if they fall in a storm. Clear-felling the right of way doesn't balance the rights of nesting birds, beetles, bats. Many tree species cease to grow taller when you remove the apical meristem - the growing tip. The idea of sending a tree-surgeon up from the bottom of each tree is ?obviously?  economic insanity.

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