February 2020

Dustin Tripp

Pole Inspection 

Your electric cooperative operates and maintains a comprehensive distribution system that consists of a network of 35 transmission to distribution substations, over 3,500 miles of distribution line that stretches across all or parts of 10 counties in southeastern Illinois to bring electricity to over 24,000 accounts in the rural areas.  As you can imagine, your Cooperative must make significant investments in the distribution system every year to replace aging infrastructure and perform a variety of maintenance activities to ensure that members receive a reliable electric supply.  One important maintenance activity that your Cooperative performs annually is the pole inspection, pole testing and pole replacement program.

Your Cooperative’s distribution system consists of approximately 78,000 poles that must be maintained for the benefit of our membership.  Historically, pole testing consisted of a technician that would visually inspect the pole above ground and then sound the pole using a hammer in various locations around the base of the pole.  If the pole sounded questionable, the technician would follow up by drilling holes near the base of the pole to inspect the integrity of the wood internal to the pole.  At this point, the pole would either be deemed satisfactory or scheduled for replacement. 

Over the past few years, your Cooperative has deployed a new method for pole inspection, pole testing and pole treatment.  The new method consists of partial excavating on two sides of each pole tangent to the distribution line.  This allows a technician the ability to visually inspect the integrity of the wood just below ground level to determine if the decay process has started.  If the decay process is visible, the excavation process continues to a depth of 18” below grade around the entire pole for inspection of decay and termite infestation below the surface.  This new method allows us to inspect the most critical part of a pole in which decay occurs most frequently.  If decay is present, the decay is literally scraped off the exterior of the pole down to good wood.  Measurements are then taken to determine the remaining strength of the pole.  If the pole has decayed to a point that the pole strength does not meet the required standards, the pole will be replaced.  If the pole strength is still sufficient, a treatment is then applied to the pole below the surface and then wrapped before backfilling.  This pole treatment process will prolong the life of our poles by stopping the decay that occurs at or just below grade where decay happens more frequently and leads to pole failure.  This treatment process will prolong the life of the distribution poles.  Management has estimated that prolonging the life of these poles will save the Cooperative approximately ½ million dollars per year. 

The 2020 pole inspection, pole testing and pole treatment process began in mid-January.  The map in this section shows the areas that will be inspected during the year 2020.  If you see technicians working around the base of the distribution poles near your home, farm or business – please know that they are working to ensure that your Cooperative’s distribution poles are reliable and will remain that way for many years to come.

See you next month and as always, “We’ll keep the lights on for you.”