Cooperative News

Reliability and Value 365: How we keep our poles standing strong

Our pole treatment program helps keep your lights on and your bills low

Keeping the lights on isn’t just about springing to action when you lose power; it’s about working every day to ensure you stay powered around the clock. Our Reliability & Value 365 series takes you behind the scenes of how we offer the biggest bang for your buck: strengthening the reliability of our system while putting money back in your pocket.

More than 391,000 wooden utility poles dot our service territory, bringing you the power you rely on. Standing up to the Central Texas elements isn’t easy — which is why our Pole Test and Treat (PTT) program is on-hand to make sure that our poles stand strong and last long.

On its own, each wooden pole is expected to last 30 years or more, explained PEC Distribution Program Coordinator Belinda Basse. But our PTT program extends that life, increasing the system’s reliability and saving you money. As we pursue our goal of inspecting about 53,000 poles each year (the team inspected 61,689 in 2017 alone), we’re able to proactively treat healthy poles against decay and remove damaged poles before they fail and cause outages.

The average cost of purchasing and installing a new 40-foot wooden pole with a projected 30-year lifespan starts around $3,500. Inspecting and treating the pole, which costs below $100 on average, extends each pole’s life at least an additional ten years. Over the decades, those savings add up.

“At the end of the day, PTT is about preserving reliability, saving money and 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.”

How we care for our poles

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.