The Ventilation Stacks (part 1) – Scare Tactics

6/19/16 Note: This post has an update!  Read the follow-up here.

Both PVE and RPVs municipal code requires cell tower accessory equipment be placed underground to minimize aesthetic impact.  Municipalities have this right under “time, place, and manner” (state law) and “least intrusive means” (federal law).  Accessory equipment applies to pretty much everything except the antennas themselves, including the receiver/transmitter units, battery back-ups, etc.  SC Edison does require the electric meter be located above ground, though it can be placed quite distant from the antenna itself, in a less intrusive location.

As part of the approval process and in accordance with its wireless ordinance, PVE required Crown Castle “mock up” a proposed site using the underground vault configuration.  This site is located within the PVD West center median at Via Boronado.  Take a look at what resulted:

Vault pic1

(Side note: Check out the spray can paint job on the antennas themselves.  For more on Crown Castle’s spray paint workmanship check out this post here)

So let’s deconstruct what we have here.  The tower itself is obvious as is the white rectangular lid of the equipment vault.  So what are those two white cylinders next to the vault?  Those, it is claimed, are the required ventilation stacks needed to provide air flow to the equipment.  They are nearly as ugly and prominent as it would be to place the equipment above ground in its own cabinet.  So what is the point?  Why not let them just put the cabinet above ground?

And that is the heart of this scare tactic.  The installer would much rather place the equipment above ground as it requires minimal engineering, requires less infrastructure, is easier to install, and easier to access for future maintenance.  In other words, it’s cheap.  It’s in the installer’s interest for the underground installation to be perceived as looking just as bad (or worse) than the above ground installation.

For comparison, here’s an existing Sprint underground vault for a comparable small cell installation Rancho Palos Verdes.  This is located at the intersection of Ridgegate and Highridge.

Vault pic2

So where are the “required” ventilation stacks?  Well, it turns out they aren’t actually required.  In the Sprint installation, ventilation is accommodated through the flush-mounted grates shown in the picture.  The installation likely also includes a sump pump that automatically activates if water is sensed in the vault.  No stacks required.

Those huge white ventilation stacks are intended for equipment that dissipates large quantities of heat and require a very high air flow.   They would typically be used in an underground installation of an Edison electric power transformer, providing electricity for all homes on an entire residential street.

Vault pic3

In comparison, the equipment utilized in the PVD West installation shown in the top photo only dissipates about 2000 Watts under worst case conditions.  That’s comparable to a bathroom blow dryer running at high speed.

Does anyone really believe this actually requires two industrial-sized ventilation stacks?  Sprint certainly didn’t, take a look at the Ridgegate and Highridge site and see for yourself.

Residents of PVE and RPV have the right to require these eyesores be installed using the least intrusive means.  We also insist our cities require objective evidence when installers claim highly intrusive installations and equipment are “required”.

It seems that more often than not, when the installer states something is “required” it actually means “easy and cheap”.  Likewise, “infeasible” seems to often mean “harder and more expensive”.

That is their problem, not ours.

6/19/16 Note: This post has an update!  Read the follow-up here.

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