Anza Electric Cooperative makes long-term upgrades to grid

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Sandy King
Anza Electric Cooperative Lineman Sandy King demonstrates pole top cover equipment. The new pole tops are part of a long-term upgrade project by the Anza Electric Cooperative. Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

ANZA – Ductile iron power poles, fiberglass cross-arms and wildlife protection devices are some of the innovative components that are part of a long-term upgrade project by the Anza Electric Cooperative, according to the member-owned utility’s operations manager Brian Baharie.

“Our goal is to improve our system over time in a responsible and cost-effective way,” he said. “These new products are the type of technology that will provide improved performance, endurance, and stability for the entire network, while at the same time making it more fire resistant.”

Ductile iron poles have been around since the 1990s, but recent improvements in design and composition now make them the industry standard.  They can be fabricated to uniform strength, coated for weather and moisture protection, and they weigh less than standard wood poles while providing more durability and resistance to fire and wildlife damage. Anza residents who saw their power go down during the recent Cranston Fire saw the benefits of increased fire resistance. As for wildlife, woodpeckers, flickers and other birds find that they don’t fit the bill, and boring insects – the banes of wooden poles – find ductile iron truly boring. They simply can’t penetrate them.

Mammals, most often bobcats and domestic cats, will find climbing up the iron poles extremely difficult. Their claws will have a hard time gaining purchase.

Fungus is also a problem with wooden poles.

“Fungus has a next to impossible success rate at establishing itself in the ductile iron,” Baharie said. “Fungi won’t have much fun in these new poles.”

Ductile iron poles also have a life expectancy of 60-75 years, and they don’t experience strength degradation during aging. They also prove flexibility during wind and ice storms. Rather than breaking, the poles will bend, preventing “cascading,” the domino-like collapse of several poles in a line.

And what about the aesthetics of these new poles?

“People should not worry about how these ductile iron poles will look over time,” Baharie said. “Once they start to oxidize, they will look more and more like the current wood poles that they are replacing.”

Plans to replace the existing wooden poles is based on need.

“There are roughly 10,000 power poles in our service area” Baharie said. “We are going to identify those poles that are compromised or nearing the end of their life expectancy and replace those as they come up.”

How are they going to identify those poles?

“The PUC (Public Utilities Commission) requires that we get an intrusive inspection every five years,” Baharie said. “That gives us some useful information. But we also have an experienced, knowledgeable line crew and those guys can usually tell if a pole is going bad just by a simple inspection.”

“Pounding on the pole with a hammer can tell them if the pole is rotting or hollow. Drilling a hole into the pole can confirm that, as well.

“Ductile iron poles cost about 20% more than the old, wooden ones. But that cost is defrayed by all the benefits they provide,” he said.

So far, Anza Electric Cooperative has installed about 30 of these poles and hopes to purchase and install several hundred the next five years.

“We are discovering that these lighter but stronger poles are easier to install than the wooden type,” Baharie said. “And they take less time. That is also a plus.”

Fiberglass cross-arms, the short, horizontal boards near the top of the poles, hold the wiring and insulators essential to transmitting power. Once again, the technological advantages of fiberglass over wood make them preferable.

“The benefits of the fiberglass cross-arms that they are higher strength, resistant to fire and longer lasting.” Baharie said. “We are planning to replace the cross-arms on every new ductile iron pole we install.”

Wildlife can also create problems for power lines and other equipment. Raptors, such as owls, eagles and hawks, and mammals, such as most often bobcats and domestic cats, can find their way up near the insulators and wires. Occasionally, they can do damage to the equipment and themselves.

Wildlife protection devices, new high-grade plastic coverings, when affixed over the insulators and cross-arms give these birds and animals more protection, a benefit to them and the electrical systems.

“Electrocution is rare but it does happen occasionally,” Baharie said. “And that is a shame because these raptors and animals are essential to controlling an already unbalanced rodent population. We plan to install these covers on all poles where recurring animal contact is possible.”

What does long-term upgrade project say about the Anza Electric Cooperative’s ongoing effort to provide quality service to its members?

“Anza Electric Cooperative is dedicated to the safe and efficient distribution of electric energy to our members,” general manager Kevin Short said. “This means that we are always working to improve the quality and reliability of our system in the most cost-effective manner possible. This long-term improvement project will guarantee decades of reduced outages and lower fire risks at the lowest possible cost impact for our community. We are grateful for the trust and confidence that our members have placed in us.”

Submitted by Anza Electric Cooperative.