What are those Lime Cones in Buffalo?
We have all seen them. Lime green traffic cones around Buffalo, NY. Usually with caution tape around them, encircling a light pole or other street side object. But why?
I had my suspicions that it could be an electrical issue. Last year it was discovered that various street side utility objects in New York city, and Toronto, Canada were electrified and could cause shocks in the right situations. So having been downtown in Buffalo a lot lately, and noticing a strange looking contractor vehicle driving around, I wondered - hmm, could they be searching for stray voltage here as well?
Stray voltage describes the occurrence of electrical potential between two objects that ideally should not have any voltage difference between them. Small voltages are often measured between two grounded objects in distant locations, due to normal current flow in the power system. Large voltages can appear on the enclosures of electrical equipment due to a fault in the electrical power system, such as a failure of insulation.
Small stray voltages may never be noticed. Larger voltages may have a range of effects, from barely perceptible to dangerous electric shocks, or unintended electrical heating resulting in fires. Normally, metal electrical equipment cases are bonded to ground to prevent a shock hazard if energized conductors accidentally contact the case. Where this bonding is not provided or has failed, a severe hazard of electric shock or electrocution is presented when circuit conductors contact the case.
So, as it turns out, yes, that is indeed what they are doing. The lime green cones are placed around the street lights, bus shelters, and billboard supports when they are found to have a stray voltage of +1 Volt or more above Ground. Most of the poles around town which have been flagged, have about a 4 volt stray voltage, which isn't too bad. To fix the problem, usually a better ground is provided.
But the good news is that the electric company and any affected utility are taking steps to fix these problems ASAP.