Maintaining System Reliability: ONE POLE AT A TIME

photo of linemen replacing a pole

Utility poles are probably one of the most iconic structures in the electric industry. Since electric cooperatives began constructing their systems back in the 1930s, images of lineworkers setting poles, climbing poles and hanging the lines have reflected
the hard work involved in bringing vital electricity to rural America.

Today, Capital Electric Cooperative (CEC) maintains close to 20,000 poles in its system. The co-op is continually working to ensure every one of those poles is in the best possible condition to do its job of holding up overhead lines effectively.

In 2016, the cooperative retained RAM Utilities, LLC, a utility service company, to inspect every pole that serves its members. The inspection is a 10 year process. Each year, the company inspects around 2,000 poles. Since beginning the process, they’ve inspected more than 8,000 poles.

There are varying inspection methods for poles based on their age. A newer pole may only require a visual inspection, which includes looking for damage of any type. A pole could have been the target of a woodpecker or may have been struck by a vehicle or machinery. With any pole, a GPS point is taken in order to keep track of thepoles that require attention.

For poles that are more than 15 years old, RAM Utilities digs down 8 inches beside the pole, drills into it and removes a core sample. If they find it has decayed and can’t be expected to last another 10 years (based on Rural Utility Service guidelines), they will reject the pole. A rejected pole is then replaced by CEC linemen or contractors shortly after the inspection. Of the 2,040 poles inspected in 2019, 97 were rejected.

It’s important to note that just because a pole is rejected doesn’t mean it was in imminent danger of failure. The purpose of the inspection process is to prevent future issues with the poles and to document the status of each one if it is deemed to be in good enough condition to remain in service.

The pole inspection process also turns up other issues on and around a utility pole. Broken guy wires, chipped insulators, broken lightning arrestors, frayed wires and even loose bolts are noted by the inspectors and immediately remedied by CEC crews.

Operations Manager Rick Dressler notes how important the inspection process is to CEC’s system. “We have found that having a pole testing and replacement program in place certainly reduces the number of broken poles we experience during storms that affect our area.”

Another way CEC is working to maintain the reliability of its overhead lines is to replace 25 miles of rural line each year. The co-op has been keeping to this schedule for quite a few years now, and it has resulted in much higher reliability of its poles and overhead line.

If you see a problem with a pole or overhead line in your area, please call CEC at (701) 223-1513, so it can be checked out immediately. Safety, along with reliability, are taken very seriously at CEC, and the co-op appreciates your help.

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