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Inspecting Power Poles

 Inspecting Power Poles

I’m riding shotgun and headed toward Coldspring on Highway 150. As we turn down a small country road, Sam Houston Electric Cooperative Utility Inspector Greg Goertz points out how dirt is mounded up around the base of our power poles. This is a sign that Osmose pole inspection crews have passed through the area.

The crews follow the power lines that serve your home and will visit every pole over the next 10 years. With 160,000 poles on our system, that’s 16,000 poles per year!

The Osmose team inspects between 55-75 poles on a hot summer day, and the process is incredibly detailed. As Osmose Supervisor Jerold Stewart told me, Osmose’s goal is “to prevent wood from doing what it does naturally–decay.”

Poles are treated before they are put into service, but they need additional care over the course of their use. Regular maintenance helps Sam Houston EC keep poles in service longer. Properly caring for a pole costs our members much less than replacing a pole.

“This program keeps the system in good shape, and helps to keep the lights on too,” Greg said.

Crewmembers start by visually inspecting the pole to look for defects, such as woodpecker holes or other damage. Then they “sound” the pole, which means they hit it with a hammer to listen for hollow areas—a sign of decay on the inside of the pole. Sam Houston EC line technicians also sound poles before they climb them to ensure they are stable.

Another crewmember digs a hole to a depth of 18 inches around the pole. Most decay occurs in this area, so it is important to inspect. It is safe to dig around the pole, because they are buried much deeper than that in the ground.

“Most decay is at the ground line and two feet below because both water and oxygen are present,” Greg said, part of his duties include managing this program for Sam Houston EC for the past 15 years. Greg said he has seen two complete inspection cycles of the system.

The pole is then scraped and holes are drilled to look for decay. If decay is found, it is treated, and the holes are sealed. A preservative paste is painted on the outside to control wood-destroying fungi, and then the pole is wrapped to seal it. The hole around the pole is refilled, and the crew moves to the next pole. The mounded dirt will settle back to ground level in coming weeks.

As I take more pictures of the poles, Greg and Osmose Supervisor Jerold Stewart explained what happens if problems are found with the pole. If there is external decay, the pole is shaved at the point of decay, which does not damage the integrity of the pole. If a pole needs additional support, a metal support called a C-truss is added.

“The C-truss restores a pole back to 100 percent strength,” Jerold said. “The metal goes five feet above and below ground, so it passes the decay zone. It is clamped to the pole with metal bands.”

Jerold began inspecting Sam Houston EC’s system in 1987, at the end of the first inspection cycle.

“[The Co-op] consistently had 15 percent of poles rejected at that time,” Jerold said. “It quickly dropped below 2 percent.”

Jerold then shows me a handheld device the crew uses to input information about the inspection, including pole information, location and any treatments applied. This information is available to Greg through a database where he can search for individual poles and track their status.

Sam Houston EC’s wooden poles are just a portion of the intricate system that provides electricity to your home. The Cooperative takes pride in serving our members reliably and affordably. Making sure the poles have as long a lifespan as possible is one way we keep costs down for our members.

Posted by: Rachel Frey, Communications Specialist