Strong, solid and steadfast. The same words we use to describe our heroes apply to some of the most underappreciated workers in our infrastructure: our utility poles.
More than 391,000 wooden utility poles dot PEC’s service territory, baking in the Central Texas sun and battered by the elements as they help deliver power to our members’ homes and businesses. Each pole is expected to last 30 years or more, explained PEC Engineering Assistant 2 Belinda Basse, and our Pole Test and Treat (PTT) program can extend and protect that life.
“PTT is a maintenance program that, like any maintenance program, helps to ensure reliability,” Basse said. “Our goal is to inspect and, if needed, treat each pole every 10 years — currently, about 53,000 poles per year, and 40,000 per year beginning in 2020.”
Keeping our poles standing strong is no small feat. The PTT program relies on an army of contractors and a complex system of inspection and maintenance. So far this year, the group has identified and replaced 1,323 aging or damaged poles and treated an additional 29,762 against future decay.
“This program has a direct impact on safety and reliability,” Electrical Distribution Design & Planning Manager Geoff Blair said. “Our goal is to replace poles before they can cause an interruption to service for the membership.” And by treating healthy poles to prevent decay, the group extends their life.
“This saves money for the membership, and makes PEC good stewards of natural resources,” Blair said.
If we visit your property
PEC has set the goal of inspecting our poles every 10 years, and when they’re located on member property, the PTT team’s goal is to be as unobtrusive as possible: “Ideally, we want our crews to get in and out without the member ever knowing we were there,” Basse said. “We want minimum disturbance to the member.”
In advance of a PTT inspection, members will receive a letter detailing inspection dates as well as the contracting companies that may visit their property. PEC will also attempt to notify members of these upcoming inspections by the use of automated phone calls. PEC asks that members maintain accurate address and contact information on their PEC accounts so they can receive these beneficial notifications.
“At the end of the day, PTT is about preserving reliability and about doing everything we can to ensure that electricity is being delivered safely,” Basse said. “It is our responsibility to maintain these poles and give them physical care, and we are proud to serve our members.”
At its most basic, this is how we keep our poles standing strong:
- Poles 0-9 years old
Contractors complete a visual inspection only. If the pole is not visibly damaged (say, by weather or pests), then it’s good to go.
- Poles 10-29 years old
Contractors complete visual as well as sound and bore inspections (hitting the pole with a hammer while listening for the sound of voids and pole deficiencies; drilling into the pole and measuring remaining shell thickness with special tools and looking for any internal decay). Healthy poles are treated with a preservative fumigant to prolong pole life. Poles below 67 percent strength are either replaced or restored with a steel truss.
- Poles 30+ years old
Contractors complete all of the above inspections, plus a full excavation around the pole and removal of any external decay. If, at that point, the pole meets the strength and condition requirements, it is treated with an internal fumigant and groundline treatment.
- Our inspectors also visually assess all poles for other potential maintenance issues, such as damaged or broken cross-arms, slack or damaged guy-wires or other faulty equipment, adding an additional layer of safety and reliability to our system.