Holiday lights and summer flower baskets may be sparse in some communities next year as Xcel Energy will be enforcing its rule to keep distribution poles free of decorations Jan. 1.
“The National Electric Safety Board has a lot of clearance requirements. We also have to have people that are certified and trained to be working near power lines. With those rules in place, our standard is to have nothing attached to electric poles,” said Christie Black, Xcel Energy outdoor lighting project coordinator.
This decision means that no hanging baskets, American flags, decorative lights or any other decoration hanging from an Xcel Energy distribution pole will be allowed after Jan. 1.
“Any town or city or village that Xcel owns the poles, they are going to be in the same boat as we are,” said Kenneth Ristow, President of the Alma Center Village Board in Wisconsin. “Hopefully they get enough gruff that they will allow it.”
Alma Center discussed alternatives, and also realized they were out some money since they recently purchased some lighted decorations for its poles.
Black said that changing service providers would be difficult since it was regulated by the Public Service Commission in Wisconsin. Ultimately Xcel Energy is not offering many options for municipalities.
“We are just talking with the communities to let them know that they might want to explore some other alternatives. We have heard of some villages that they are looking more at decorating on sidewalks, possibly decorating outdoor business fronts, but nothing can go on our distribution poles,” Xcel Energy spokesperson Chris Ouellette said.
Ouellette said this is not a new rule, but that they are going to begin enforcing the rule next year across the eight states they service.
“We have noticed over the last several years that some communities have been putting things on the distribution poles without permission or working with the company to do so and there have been some safety issues with the size of decorations and height,” Ouellette said.
Xcel Energy has also run into issues with access to distribution poles due to decorations.
“They pose problems for our crews if they have to go in and do some repair work on distribution poles. There have been times where crews have not been able to access what they need to because of things in the way,” Ouellette said.
Black said there is only one exception to putting decorations on the poles, “We do have an application process for a street light pole only, so if there is a pole that serves just a street light we can work with the municipality on allowing attachments with that as long as they contact the outdoor lighting department and we go through our process with an application and agreement and so forth.”
Since the changes won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, this will be the last year many municipalities will be able to decorate.
“We are trying to get out and work with our communities and let them know. We know that the holiday season is coming up and we know that there are some that like to decorate for the holidays and we will let it go, but Jan. 1 is when we will start to make sure they are all complying with the proper terms,” Ouellette said.