Composite Utility Poles Emerge as Winner in Many Regions and Climates

Utility lines span the country, ubiquitous, nearly invisible, crisscrossing the landscape and delivering power to millions of Americans in all climates and regions from cities, suburbs, farms and fields to deserts, marshes and mountains.

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Utility lines span the country, ubiquitous, nearly invisible, crisscrossing the landscape and delivering power to millions of Americans in all climates and regions—from cities, suburbs, farms and fields to deserts, marshes and mountains.

By some estimates there are more than 150 million utility poles in the United States, carrying hundreds of millions of miles of electrified lines. For utilities, maintenance, replacement and installations of new lines offer many unique problems and challenges that cannot always be solved using existing methods, architecture or equipment.

Often, successfully overcoming these obstacles requires outside-the-box thinking and a willingness to consider non-traditional avenues and options. A perfect example of this is utilities' desire for a simple, lightweight and cost-effective system for installing utility poles in remote, wilderness, backlot and hard-to-reach areas where access to resources can be difficult.

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Composite utility poles offer a high-strength, durable, lightweight and maintenance-free solution that makes installation and line design easy. These benefits can help offset higher upfront costs of composite poles; longer lifespan, decreased freight and quicker installation contribute to an overall total lower pole ownership cost.

In the course of doing business with Ameren Utilities on several composite installations, Duratel was approached about a unique project in the Pilot Knob region of Ameren's Missouri service territory. Ameren was faced with a remote stretch of distribution lines near the town of Pilot Knob, Mo., that needed to be replaced. The problem: Existing poles were situated in a hard-to-reach area on an extremely rocky slope that made conventional installation, replacement and maintenance difficult to accomplish. This type of situation is not uncommon. In many cases, linesmen are required to make on-the-spot field modifications to poles, work around existing barriers and obstacles, or place poles along restricted easements, difficult terrain or marshy areas where typical heavy equipment cannot gain easy access.

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"We considered many possibilities for this project," said Matt Jolani, standards transmission and distribution design engineer for Ameren. "The environment made it difficult to locate the new poles. The slope and rocks made it impossible to drill using our existing equipment, and blasting was out of the question."

Ameren was faced with a dilemma. Installing standard wood poles in the existing location would have been too costly, time-consuming and ultimately made any resulting maintenance prohibitive. When Jolani contacted Duratel, team engineers began working to design a solution. The result was a secure, safe, customized steel base plate with a reinforced core that fit inside Duratel's hollow pole design and attached to the rock face using standard anchor bolts. The lightweight, durable Duratel poles were transported to the site and installed without heavy machinery.

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"We were very pleased with the results," Jolani said. "From the initial request, the design phase, delivery and installation, Duratel exceeded our expectations with this project. It's nice to have a relationship with a company willing to work with our people toward a common goal."

After this initial installation, Ameren examined its need for other specialty applications that allowed Duratel the opportunity to highlight the benefits and versatility of composites.

Woodpeckers and wetlands are a persistent problem for traditional wood utility poles. Woodpeckers can critically damage poles—requiring costly and time-consuming repairs or even replacement. Duratel composites are resistant to pests, bugs, rot and decay. The maintenance-free poles are resilient to extreme weather conditions and are the ideal solution for swamp or marshy areas of the country.

"Knowing that we won't be back in 5 years with the same type of woodpecker damage is a great long-range cost savings," said Kevin Kuper, construction supervisor. "My crews have installed poles in areas prone to this type of damage and are encouraged to have a product that can survive in these environments."

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Another application Ameren needed Duratel composites solutions for involved a 70-foot pole in a high traffic location at a substantial turn angle. Ameren replaced a laminated wood pole and doubled the span to more than 200 feet. Drivers in a neighboring subdivision were trying to turn onto a main road but were concerned with safety due to visibility because two laminated wood poles were at the corners of the intersection. The poles were at angles of up to 2.5 degrees with a 34 kV circuit and two 12 kV underbuilt.

"Having the ground wire factory installed inside the poles with preselected connection points was a great time saver," said Dave Hinrichs, general foreman with JF Electric. The Ameren utility crew also responded to the lightweight properties, ease of handling, and quick, efficient installation.

As utility needs change over time and engineering or environmental challenges arise, high strength, low weight composite poles offer an attractive option for many traditional and specialty applications. Duratel provides technical, design and construction support to complement its line of transmission, distribution and composite crossarm products.

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National utilities, municipalities and rural electric cooperatives each use different pole configurations and have varying needs at each installation site. Duratel carries a standard line of composite pole products and hardware including monopoles, h-frame structures, crossarms, solar, wind and Wi-Fi applications. In addition, Duratel is willing to engineer custom solutions for difficult and unique jobs.


About Duratel:
Duratel is a Chicago-based manufacturer of reinforced, composite utility distribution, transmission and lighting pole products. Duratel carries a standard line of composite pole products and hardware including monopoles, h-frame structures, crossarms, solar, wind and Wi-Fi applications. Duratel can engineer custom solutions for difficult and unique jobs.

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