To help enhance the reliability of its system, West Penn Power crews have replaced or repaired about 340 wooden utility poles so far this year as part of the company's annual inspection program.
Overall, West Penn Power expects to inspect more than 54,000 of its 491,000 wooden distribution poles in 2014 for signs of wear, insect infestation or damage from a car accident.
A standard 40-foot wooden distribution pole typically is expected to last more than 50 years. The most common utility pole is made from a Southern Yellow Pine tree and costs about $400.
"Wooden utility poles form the backbone of our distribution network that delivers electricity to the homes and businesses throughout West Penn Power's service area. We expect to replace or repair about 400 poles by the end of the year as part of our ongoing efforts to enhance service reliability for our customers," said David W. McDonald, president of West Penn Power. "While certainly durable, these poles are in the elements 365 days of the year and subject to damage from severe weather, falling trees, and traffic accidents. Over time, some poles need to be replaced to help ensure our system remains reliable and resilient."
Typically, specialized contractors perform the pole inspections. As part of the process, a visual inspection is completed, along with checking the pole to determine if the interior is sound. Poles also can be reinforced rather than replaced, oftentimes at less than half the cost and time. One of the most common reinforcement techniques is to snug a C-shaped steel beam against the pole, jackhammer the beam into the ground, and secure it to the pole with tight, metal bands.
All wood poles throughout the 24-county West Penn Power service territory are inspected on a 12-year cycle. Inspections began in January and will continue through summer, with the remaining pole replacements and repairs scheduled to be completed during the fall.
Year-to-date, West Penn Power has inspected more than 38,000 wooden poles.