The Importance of NLI Stakers

NLI staker Jen Lanaville flags power lines at Martin Bay in Sagle. Photo by Jen Lanaville. Photo by Jen Lanaville

Northern Lights Inc. (NLI) has 6 full-time engineering technicians, whom we call stakers. Stakers provide an important service to NLI members while often working behind the scenes. Unless you recently have had a new service or service change, you likely have not interacted with one of these workers.

When the NLI member services team gets a request for a new service, it is set up in the NLI system. A staker schedules a site meeting with the member to go over the request.

The staker collects field information to facilitate the design. Back at the office, the staker researches easements, permits and line routing and develops a design, material list and cost estimate. This all can take a significant amount of time to coordinate. It can become more complicated for a large subdivision or when power is not close by. Construction may be challenging due to terrain or many other factors.

In 2021, NLI had a record 926 requests for new services. This year, we are again experiencing a high volume, though less than last year. The stakers are still processing requests from last year because of delays for applicants waiting on permits, changing plans, delaying construction, not getting easements or other delays. Unfortunately, for those wanting new services, it can take a while after applying to meet with the NLI staker for your job.

NLI’s power line infrastructure needs to be continuously maintained and evaluated for aging, capacity to serve our members’ load and reliability. These efforts often start in our staking department.

Stakers are responsible for designing maintenance and upgrade projects. This could range from upgrading a threephase overhead power line with larger wire for more capacity to converting an overhead power line to underground. When a highway or road causes NLI to relocate a power line, stakers coordinate with the entities and facilitate the power line relocation design. Projects include coordination with highway departments, railroads, U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Department of Lands and other agencies.

The stakers also coordinate joint-use attachment requests when another communications utility company, such as a broadband provider, wants to attach a communication cable to NLI’s poles. Each pole needs to be reviewed by a staker to make sure attaching a communication cable does not cause clearance issues or pole overloading. If it does cause issues, the staker will make recommendations for upgrading a pole so the communication cable can be attached.

Stakers are involved when a major storm causes widespread damage to NLI power lines. Stakers often will perform initial field assessments of lines to determine the extent of damage ahead of the line crews. This allows the line crews to focus on making repairs immediately and knowing what materials to bring for repairs in the areas that have been assessed. They also are trained to help assist NLI’s dispatch staff.

The stakers may often go unnoticed outside the office, but they play a crucial role in getting new services to our members and ensuring reliability of our existing power lines. If you see a stake in the ground or a flagged pole, this likely is where a staker has been at work outside the office.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.