Finding Power-Line Noise Sources on the HF and VHF Bands - W1AEX

The ideas here are shared for the purpose of offering a few thoughts about locating, documenting, and reporting power-line noise sources. It's not a terribly technical page but sometimes simplicity can be very effective. The goal here is to use a few tools available to most hams that can be used to facilitate communication with the local utility company about damaged power-line hardware that is affecting reception. Your mileage may vary, but the ideas below have proven to be very effective for me in getting my local power company to respond quickly to power-line noise issues. If you come up with other ideas that have worked for you, I'd love to learn about them!

After an exasperating power-line noise issue that took almost 6 weeks to resolve back in 2009 (a blown lightning arrestor on a distribution line out in the deep woods almost a mile away) I decided to equip myself to find HF noise sources instead of waiting for the power company to mobilize its limited resources designated for this purpose. I have a Yaesu FT-8900 in the car that can receive AM on 10m/6m/2m/440 MHz and it has been my primary tool for tracking noise sources down to a single pole. I keep frequencies programmed to receive the AM mode on each of the 4 bands so it only takes a few seconds to switch the rig over to noise detection mode. The issues that I have dealt with were easily tracked down by listening to a 2 meter frequency in the AM mode or even by using the AM aircraft band. If you don't have mobile equipment that has AM mode capability an inexpensive radio scanner that can receive the AM aircraft band can be used successfully. The general rule for seeking out noise sources is to determine the general direction the noise is coming from by using a directional antenna at your home station location. Then head off in that direction with the mobile station while listening on 10 meter or 6 meter AM. As you get closer to the noise source, move up to 2 meter AM or the AM aircraft band to help with localizing the noise. I have not really had to listen on the 440 MHz band as the noise I have experienced here has peaked up quite sharply on 2 meters as the offending pole is approached.

Documentation of the noise source is critical to successfully getting the power company to respond promptly. I've found YouTube to be an excellent format to utilize for uploading "noise videos" to share with the power company. Documentation is especially important when the noise problem you are experiencing is intermittent. It only takes a few minutes to set up a camera tripod in the passenger seat of my car for the purpose of creating a video like the one below that I used following a devastating storm on October 29, 2011 that caused tremendous damage to the grid in my area.
There's nothing complicated here as the captured audio is simply the radio's speaker acoustically coupled to the camera's microphone. This arrangement does a great job of showing the rise in amplitude as the noise source is approached. The links to the noise videos below are examples of a couple of "helpful hints" that I sent by email to the engineer assigned to my case at the local technical group of Connecticut Light and Power. Note how the noise peaks up sharply as pole 1124 is approached. The editing tools available at YouTube allow registered users to embed text in any video that you upload to your account, so you can see that I annotated "Pole 1124" to assist the folks at the power company:
 
Pole 1124


To help the power company understand how this particular noise was affecting reception to my station equipment a link to the video below was also provided. Note that this noise problem was cleaning out reception from 20 meters through 2 meters but did not seem to cause any issues to the AM broadcast band or 160 - 40 meters. This is important to share with the power company because frequently they will send someone out in a truck who will attempt to listen for the noise on the truck's AM broadcast band radio:

Reception on 10 meters


I've always believed that you need to make sure you have all your information ready when you make that first contact with the power company. If you call them and try to explain the details of your problem over the phone you may find a hint of skepticism creeping into the conversation as the person on the other end of the phone writes the word "crackpot" next your name. Make sure you have all the details you can provide written down in front of you before making your first report. Also, be sure to document every call you make to the power company. Annotate the date and time of the contact, the name of the person you spoke with as well as their contact information, and details of the content of the conversation. At some point, if things seem to be moving slowly, I have found it helpful to review all my efforts to communicate with the power company at the beginning of each conversation. When it reaches the point where it takes more than 30 seconds to read off all the dates of your phone calls they usually get the message and things begin to move. The contact protocol with my company usually results in a call back from the local technical group a week or two after reporting the problem to the main company. My initial conversation on the phone with the local line engineer regarding the issue shown in the videos above went something like this:

Engineer..........My name is ***** and I'm a line engineer with Connecticut Light and Power. I understand you are having a noise issue of some kind?

Me..........Hi, thanks for calling. I'm experiencing a power line noise issue that affects radio reception at my home location.

Engineer..........Oh really, can you describe the problem?

Me..........Sure, listen to this. (My home station video with 10 meter noise is queued up on my computer and I hold the phone up to the computer speaker with the volume impressively loud and press "play" to give him a nice dose of noise.)

Engineer..........Um... yes that sounds like a problem.

Me.......Yes indeed, it's causing severe issues with my F.C.C. Part 97 licensed operations.

Engineer..........Are you sure this noise problem isn't coming from something in your house?

Me..........Yes, this is not coming from my home. In fact, it's coming from pole 1124 which is about 1000 feet from my house.

Engineer..........Um... how are you determining this?

Me..........I have equipment that I can use to track down noise sources such as this. In fact, I have several videos prepared for you that you can view right now if you allow me to send you the links by email. Otherwise, I'd be happy to read you the link addresses over the phone right now. (They really don't want to write down the links so you can be pretty sure they will give you an email address.)

Engineer..........That would be helpful. I'll take a look and get back to you.

At that point the engineer gave me his email address and sure enough, after viewing the videos, he called right back to discuss the steps that would be taken. If you can make convincing video documentation that allows them to address the problem without involving resources outside of their technical group the problem can get resolved very quickly.

The video uploads to YouTube made it possible for the local technical group to send
along the informational video links to whoever needed convincing that a response was necessary and that helped to get things moving quickly here. Within two weeks the power company rolled two bucket trucks and replaced everything on pole 1124 which is located about 1000 feet from my property and that was the end of that issue. Well... almost. As it turns out, the splice to the left of the pole seemed to have a problem after they installed the new hardware on the pole. Apparently it had been stressed during the storm damage and was further stressed when the repairs were done to the pole. As a result, lights in the area fed by this distribution line flickered slightly. Within a few hours a truck came back and put a jumper across the splice and that was the end of the story.

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I found a number of other ham radio operators have been using YouTube to document line noise issues. Some of them have been very helpful and are good examples of how resourceful hams can be when faced with an issue that messes with their enjoyment! After viewing a series of videos by Dave - N0RQ it seemed like a good idea to build a handheld 4 element 440 MHz beam that can be used with my VX7R (which also receives AM on 10m/6m/2m/440 MHz) when an issue seems to be coming from areas not accessible with my vehicle. Dave has an excellent web site dedicated to power line noise and also a series of YouTube videos that start here:



If you've got line noise, document the problem and then contact your utility company. Be persistent, in fact, be relentless so that they know you are not going away. Call every other day for updates and always be courteous, persistent, and patient and you'll almost certainly get it resolved. The ARRL has provided a step-by-step problem solving FAQ written by Mike Gruber - W1MG to assist hams with identifying and resolving power-line noise issues. It's helpful to read this thoroughly to understand how to file a complaint should your utility company be unresponsive. The importance of documentation is stressed in the League's narrative and an outline of what a reasonable timeline for resolution is also provided. Mike Martin (RFI Services), Riley Hollingsworth (FCC) and Jody Boucher (Northeast Utilities) wrote an outstanding article about power-line noise resolution called "A Smarter Approach to Resolving Power-Line Noise". This jointly authored article might just be the best compilation of causes and cures for RFI caused by utility company hardware. It's not a long article but it's packed with information and so well written that you'll end up with a very clear picture of the role of each player in the resolution of RFI problems.

Good luck!

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