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After trimming the old tree, we found out that the steel cable supporting the main feeder lines is broken:

enter image description here

Must have been like that for years. The actual feeder wires are fine, the electricity is on. The steel cable seem not to be really connected to any electrical part, so I assume its function is only to hold the wires.

Question: is this something I can fix myself, i.e. by simply clamping them together? Or it requires welding? Or full cable replacement?

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    Good on you for asking before you attempted to kill yourself! – FreeMan Jun 26 at 3:41
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You can see right there where the steel cable is bonded to the lighter colored of the three service entrance wires.

Yeah, you lost a neutral. This is when we get out the big font and say

This is a power outage. Call your power company NOW.

Normally these arise as “Hey, my appliances keep blowing up”... or “I measured 84 volts on an outlet” “check your other ones” “Oh, this one is 148 volts”.

But the funny thing about lost neutrals is people can take quite some time to realize they have the problem.

But yes, that wire is electrically “hot” - well, it’s near ground voltage if everything is working... but if you go up there and try to rejoin it, you’ll end up with one wire in your left hand and the other wire in your right hand, and the neutral current will try to go through you.

Of course, you said “feeder”. That is a word with a specific meaning: it means a cable after the meter going between panels. So supposedly you would have a house and a pole barn or something, and an overhead line feeding a subpanel out there. But that would be 4 wires (with messenger as ground), not 3 as we see in this photo.

The specific name for this cable is “service drop”.

And the service drop is in the power company’s bailiwick, so they will fix it for free in almost every case.

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    Thank you, I called PG&E and they are coming to fix it today. – George Y. Jun 26 at 2:35
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    Actually they came in like 20 minutes, and fixed it with no charges. – George Y. Jun 26 at 4:18
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    Petition to rename Harper to LostNeutralGuy (or Girl) – user253751 Jun 26 at 10:22
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    I would add that you should not be trimming trees anywhere near power lines. If tree branches are threatening wires, that should also be the power company's responsibility. (May vary by location.) – Darrel Hoffman Jun 26 at 17:46
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    PG&E probably should stop talking about whose responsibility tree trimming is. They’re in BIIIIG trouble for failing to trim trees, like, “declared bankruptcy out of fear of lawsuits” big. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 27 at 5:51
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You should not go near that. Call the power company as soon as possible and tell them a wire on your service drop is broken. It appears to be the neutral for your triplex service. They should fix it at no cost.

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The bare connector is a neutral and carries the imbalanced load, and now is relying on the ground rods and other electrodes to conduct the difference between the 120v conductors back to the transformer.

It must be replaced. Normally the overhead conductors are the property of the utility and the user has no authority to service it.

You should call the utility immediately to replace it, you may have some difficulty convincing them you had no part in damaging it, hopefully you can ask them to look for rust on the cut surfaces.

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  • Would cutting this line cause a momentary arcing as the 2 sides pull apart? Would rust still be discernible? – Z4-tier Jun 28 at 5:11
  • @Z4-tier I'm a little lost at what you are proposing, I accept he didn't just cut the wire, but considering he was just trimming his trees he might need to discourage the utility from thinking he did. If there was arc whenever this damage occurred I wouldn't expect it to prevent rust. The arc should also be quite small because he should have some functioning electrodes that create a parallel path to the transformer and all you are opening on a residential service is a center tap of a transformer and the closed circuits in the panel create parallel current paths. – NoSparksPlease Jun 28 at 14:45
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Yes, never touch. Call PG&E.

We lived in a triplex in the Bay Area and when the common dryer was used, the lights would brown and dim cyclically. The main electrical drop came in on our unit and I went outside one Sunday night to notice that the bare wire was broken. Called PG&E, they came immediately. Worker donned the full suit, gloves, ground rods and clamps and went up to the roof and spliced it back together. Afterward, he, I and my wife were standing below it and talking about how this might happen and he said "well, sometimes rats chew through them, they seem to like the taste of the electrical current"... to which my wife said "rats?". He shined his flashlight into the large tree above and said "sure, like that one"... The largest &%$*%^d rat was just hanging out.

My wife had disappeared behind a closed and locked sliding door... :)

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    +1 for the story! – Criggie Jun 28 at 21:16

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