The Utilities of Shelter

Electric Shock Therapy

The Way of the Buddha:
Develop Sanctuary With Working Utilities.

The electric utility converts motion of water, steam and nuclear fission into useful clean power. Here is wisdom.

A quote from my book, Grasshopper StickieNotes, version 9.9.2, which can be found only in the dark moist recesses of my frontal lobes.

We wanted to be totally 'off-grid' with only solar power for lights and propane backup for heat and hot water. But this plan failed when we were undermined by the California Housing Code requirement to be connected to the power grid, even if we did not want to be.

When I found out that we had no choice but to connect to Pacific Power & Light's grid, I proceeded to ask PP&L for a quote to connect. A PP&L rep came out from their Yreka office. He walked around the land for a while, made notes about the power pole which was 'planted' on our lot and pronounced that we would be paying about $12-15 thousand to connect.

I was in shock. This sum was so far beyond any expectations that I could barely summon a 'goodbye' as he left. I e-mailed Liza right away to let her know. My encounter with this 'electric shock therapy' was depressing and left me in a mood reminiscent of Jack Nicholson's character in the movie "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest".

I went out the next day and bought a used 5 kilowatt gasoline-powered generator. It was my immediate answer. I needed to do some research and see if there was any way to reduce this proposed cost.

I did my research on the PP&L website. I found their web pages for connection configurations and costs. It explained a lot about what led to the high estimate. I now knew there was a wild over-estimate of our needs and the situation 'on the ground'.

I drove to Yreka to the PP&L office, only to be rebuffed. "We do not take personal visits in this office", I was told by a clerk behind a bulletproof window. I saw the rep at his desk in the back and said loudly, "I just needed to clarify a couple things about the actual house location and wanted a refined estimate of connection cost." When I finished talking I noticed that he had heard me.

I left and went home wondering how in the hell I'd ever communicate with a company that would not allow direct interaction except 'in the field' on a one-time visit.

Surprise! On September 21st 2010, I got a revised estimate by e-mail. Here's the text excerpt:

"I have written up two ballpark costs for residential service to your house site on Mountain St. in Hornbrook. There is a $750.00 dollar residential allowance that will offset the cost given by PacifiCorp. There is also a $250.00 contract administration credit that we can review more once your house site is chosen. To take an overhead service within 30’ of the transformer pole would also subtract $1200.

The cost to rework the existing pole, add a transformer and underground service to a meter base 150’ away is $10,000.

To add one 250’ span of primary then hang the transformer, riser and 150’ of service is $8,800.00.

Once your house site is chosen, please call and we can start getting things worked out with a more accurate cost, contract and if any right of ways are needed."

I quickly realized the revised estimate was still predicated upon a 'large' transformer, a complete replacement of the existing pole (at our expense), adding another pole to extend the lines halfway to the Mountain Street cul de sac (to the wrong location for the house) and some standard costs charged by AT&T for 'lowering' their mostly unused telephone cable on the pole. I used his direct e-mail address. I will summarize some of our e-mail 'conversations' as if we were really talking and provide actual excerpts when it will help clarify the situation.


On October 15th 2010, I e-mailed the PP&L rep that we were building the house close to the existing PP&L pole on our property line and that our connection would be 55 feet from that existing pole. I added the following comment to affect his thinking:

"I am also looking at the possibility of going totally "off-grid". Wholesale Solar of Mt. Shasta have a complete system for about the same price as your current pole-changeout option ($10,500). I need to talk with you to consider all options before making this decision. I need to decide before our well is drilled since the well pump decision depends on solar or grid power choice."

In November, I had a visit from the PP&L rep and I signed an agreement for later install of the connection based on the promised estimate. I had a few moments to engage in discussion with him before I signed. I told him again where the final house site was to be, what we expected to have for electric power needs, about our failed desire for solar power instead of grid power, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum.

"Oh, well, that will lower the cost by about a third", he said. I remarked that the transformer seemed too large. He said, "Well, we want to put a large one there now so that when you get neighbors building there that they will pay you back a portion of this specific cost." I asked when they had last added a customer on Mountain or Greentree Streets. He said, "Well about two years ago (2008) at the intersection of River and Mountain Streets." And I asked, "Did you install this same size transformer there?" To which he replied, "Nope". I knew I had a possible way out of these high costs.

I asked why the existing pole needed to be replaced at OUR expense. He replied, "Because you want to get connected, you have to pay all costs of that connection, including replacing the pole, etc."

I replied, "Bullshit, that pole is your property installed years ago and you take depreciation on it and use that cost to get rate hikes. You recover that cost at our collective expense." He replied, "Well, that's the way the Public Utilities Commission allows us to recover our expenses, directly from each customer." I asked if he "..could tell me how long before that transformer rebate would expire, and what if no one ever built up here to connect to it?" He replied, "Five years till it expires. If you connect now (2010) it will expire in 2015." He went on to say, "You get back 1/5th of your present cost for each additional connection to that big transformer since we estimate a total of five connections could be safely made from it." I told him that our engineer had advised us that the lots surrounding our land had limited chances for development due to the steep slope, rocky soil and lack of percability. He replied, "Well, that is a good point. Let me think about it."

I got on the phone and dialed George Ebejer. George had told me that he had done the trenching, installed the conduit and wires and the foundation grading for that 'new' house at the north end of Mountain Street. George would know something about the costs that guy paid. George said, "About $3,500, more or less. Why?" I explained the best that I could, using three part harmony and soft guitar background music about my discussion and e-mails with the PP&L guy. George said, "Oh you mean good old (name withheld). Shucks, here's what you do." And George proceeded to offer more anecdotes of other people's experiences (some were very recent and close by), and then said, "Build your case in an e-mail and copy his supervisor and the PUC in Sacramento." He went on to say, "The 2008 install that I did was on an identical pole and all that PP&L did was lower the cross-arm that held the AT&T cable and put a small transformer above that. No pole replacement either."


I went immediately to the poles on each property that George mentioned. I photographed the transformer and wiring connections and got the data from the pole tags. I went home, created and re-edited and re-edited and re-wrote an e-mail to present my argument for a lower cost of connection and sent the photos.

I received no further e-mails or letters. I continued to use my generator for electricity needs. I went to Russia for the winter months and came back to KRCE in early April 2011. No mail or e-mails from PP&L. So, I wrote the Yreka rep an e-mail:

April 20th 2011: "We are about to break ground on the foundation of our home at 13242 Mountain St., Hornbrook; Lot 130 in Unit 2 of the KRCE. You quoted a range of $8800 - $10000 for the first guesstimate. That was for a 2nd pole nearly 150' from the existing pole (Pavlodar#06247005 / 301301 or PPL-E21830)."

"On your 2nd visit I said the house service entrance would be by overhead line to the 'masthead' at 55' +\- from that pole. You changed your guesstimate to $11000+/-."

"I asked why we needed to pay for a pole changeout when clearly this was NOT required of the new home at the beginning of Mountain St at River Rd (Pacpower #06247005 / 303600 or PPL E21824). Your reply was about the Comm line cable and certain distances required. Then you stated you might be able to get the phone company to allow lowering their line."

"I want a detailed set of estimates for both a pole mounted transformer with an overhead drop and for an underground cable from a pole or ground mounted transformer."

"And I want to understand why PPL/PacPower is requiring us to pay all costs of a pole switch out that does not appear to be required."

About April 27th 2011, I received an e-mail reply:

"First off, as I explained in the field, and you indicated you understand; those were ball park estimates to give you something to work with in choosing your house location. I cannot give you an accurate estimate without having all of your information.

Per tariff policy PacifiCorp will give each customer one estimate free, if you would like more than that, simply agree to pay the labor rate in advance and provide all the information needed."

"Any more than one estimate drives up our cost to the rate payers and that is not acceptable. I provided ballpark costs."

"When dealing with foreign occupants on the pole, all clearances and costs are subject to review and acceptance. When I gave you the ballpark costs, I explained that it was a worst case scenario, and you indicated you understood. If you do not understand this, simply let me know. PPL is not yet requiring you pay for anything until we know what type of service you would like to receive."

"The worst case scenario would be that the pole has to be replaced, and because you are the cause for the clearance issue you would have to pay."

"The more likely case is that AT&T will have to move their attachment down, install a guard arm and we will be able to hang a transformer. The pole at River Rd should have given you an indication as to what is likely to happen."

"When you finish providing all of your information, we can then proceed. You have given me, for the first time, an address on your email of 13242 Mountain Ave. Is this to indicate you did get your building permit?"

"If you are ready to proceed then we can have another appointment because so much time has passed. The request is still open. We have filled out an Electric Service Requirements Agreement on 11/8/10, and will need to review this sheet, filling out a new one due to the amount of time that has passed."

"I will need to know; house size, heat source, water heater type, any load with more than 48 amps switching on at one time, meter location with plans, overhead or underground service, and if you need temporary service."

"If you do not have this information it will delay your estimate and contract. Please reference your work order number in any correspondence to enable an accurate and timely response. It is on the ESRA we reviewed and signed on 11/8/10."


On April 28th 2011, I reread the Yreka PP&L rep's e-mail. I noted that there were other recipients of his e-mail. He was 'informing' someone in regional headquarters about our problem(s). A little 'CYA' was being practiced. I felt this was an opening to inform a greater audience of my upset, but to do so in an 'objective' manner. I hit "REPLY ALL" and I wrote:

"We received our building permit a month ago."

"Our street address is 13242 Mountain St., Hornbrook, CA, 96044-0009."

"The ESRA I signed in November clearly notes that we must install a:"

"1. 200 amp, 1 phase, 120/240 voltage service by overhead drop from the pole-mounted transformer to the roof mounted masthead, a distance of about 68 feet (a change due to setback requirements), with the meter base being flush mounted about 10 feet directly below the masthead top and clearly visible from the street and/or driveway."

"2. for our super-insulated, 1344 sq. ft. single-story house with a half basement,"

"3. using propane instant-on radiant heating with a low power circulating pump,"

"4. using a wood stove for primary heating with a small circulating fan and ceiling fans,"

"5. using propane instant-on domestic hot water heating,"

"6. using propane for the cooking range and the clothes dryer,"

"7. using electricity (220V) for the primary well pump to a 1300 gallon storage tank, thence to a 110V pressure pump,"

"8. without air-conditioning, nor yard light, nor heat pump nor any other motor requiring more than 20 amps at startup."

"We are installing the septic now and will dig the foundation in a week."

"Your previous high ("worst case") guesstimates gave us 'sticker shock'. In our opinion the prices you quoted were excessive and were made worse by the lack of specificity of how you arrived at those prices. We have nearly cancelled our plan to build in California twice since I signed the ESRA in November."

"Your verbal $11000 'worst case' estimate in November is about 12% of the cost of our $90K home (with land). If you had said $5000+/- 10%, I would have signed right then - even now, but $11K - something is wrong!"

"Because of this extreme 'up front' cost for electric power, we have opted to not put in a temporary power connection. I will 'make do' with a generator and by hauling my lumber to a neighbors' to do the table-saw cutting."

"We are being forced to connect to PPL. The California 1997 Uniform Housing Code, Section 7, Preamble paragraphs, say we must do so if within 300 feet of electrical power. I told you we wanted to be off-grid in a solar home, but this code requirement made a totally solar home impossible to justify, with the added costs of connecting to PPL against our desire."

"I am a bit confused. I thought that we were going to be "customers" of PPL. Instead, it appears that you think we are victimizing PPL/ATT when you said that we are the 'cause of the clearance problem and therefore must pay for the costs'. It is very clear to me that PPL and ATT were both responsible for designing, installing and maintaining the wiring on that pole on our property. Both ATT and PPL have control over how that pole is configured. Someone at PPL failed to think about the futurity of their decision to allow ATT to hang its wires at a level that would prevent proper installation of transformers in a residential area at a later date."

"What I need from you is a more accurate DETAILED estimate based on the location of the house, which I gave to you in November, and have restated above. There is no need for multiple estimates. I expect there will be no problem in getting ATT to lower their line, especially if they want our business."

"I note that you are now asking for drawings. You made no request for these before. In what format, scale, etc. do you want them? I can send PDF files which you can then scale up on screen to as large as needed. If you want larger paper plans then I can deliver them to your office in Yreka ASAP."

"Thanks for your work on this request."


The Yreka PP&L rep replied on May 2nd 2011:

"The cost to you as it will appear on your contract, following approval, will be;"

"$3,469.00 if you accept the $250.00 contract administration credit and waive any rights to future refunds from customers coming online at your transformer in the next five years."

"$3,719.00 if you decline the $250.00 credit, to enable refunds for 25% of the cost for the shared portion of facilities you paid to install, per customer that attaches, limited to three customers."

On May 4th I replied:

"Thanks to you and PPL for the new lower cost for getting connected."

"I need to verify that the price is $3469 w/acceptance of the $250 credit and that no other charges from ATT will apply."

"I need to understand the timing of making the payment(s) so I can have the amount on our bank account for the check."

"If the $3469 is solid then we are also interested in a construction/temporary hookup. The 120 day duration of this hookup is a problem."

"I will complete the construction up to the main floor deck level by end of July. I must travel out of country from August until Thanksgiving on assignment. Can the 120 day rule be suspended? I will begin wall and roof construction in November as weather permits. The probable date for the exterior wall and roof enclosure to be done is January. Permanent hookup would be transferred from a temp pole at that time to the masthead."

"If you can suggest a schedule work-around for temp power then I am ready to sign and start the install within the next couple of weeks."

"If the temp power is possible then you need to know the following:"

"1. The house has been moved back toward the PPL pole so the distance from pole to masthead will be approx. 61 feet. Masthead will be mounted as shown in the sketch I gave Dereck. It will be guyed because we have high winds frequently."

"2. The temp pole would be a treated, nom. 6x6", 30' long with 5-6' buried per ESR. It will be placed 5 ft to the east of the NE corner of the house which would be on an arc, from your pole, of 7' from the final location. Can we do the temp with enough slack in your line to allow a simple transfer from temp pole to masthead?"

I know. I can hear you thinking, "You're being a prick and too detailed". True. And, I am being respectful of the need for clear communication with these guys.

From the boss of bosses in Portland, I received the following on May 4th 2011:

"I can’t speak for AT&T."

"If you have your building permits from the county and the temp pole installed and green tagged by the county inspector we could extend service to you and consider it permanent. There is an $85 temp fee that offsets part of the cost of a second trip to your site, this will show up on your first bill."

"It’s hard for me to discuss placement since I’ve not been to the site. If you follow the agreement you and (Our Rep) signed and the ESR manual that (Our Rep) should have provided to you the service should be fine. Once again, the county and Pacific Power must approve the installation prior to connection."

I chose the lower cost option and signed the cover letter and the contract on May 16th 2011. On July 12th we got our 'green sticker' from the building inspector and power was connected by PP&L a week later. Case CLOSED! We are electrified!


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