Why Replace Utility Poles?

Benton REA Journeyman Lineworkers attach a street light to a newly installed utility power pole

You probably don’t pay much attention to the utility poles, but did you know these tall structures are the backbone of Benton REA’s distribution network?

Strong, sturdy utility poles ensure a reliable electric system, which is why we routinely inspect the thousands of poles found on our lines.

“Pole replacement helps us maintain our system and reduce outages,” says Benton REA Operations Manager Jeff Ekrut. “Once a pole is rotten, it can easily fall over and cause an electric outage. High winds, floods, heavy ice and car accidents can easily topple a rotten pole.”

Benton REA hires a contractor such as Pacific Pole Inspections, LLC, to check poles for decay caused by exposure to the elements.

Each pole is inspected for shell rot, decay and insect or other damage to the interior and exterior. The inspection crew drills into each pole to look for interior rot and treats poles to prevent future damage.

10% of Benton REA utility poles are inspected each year, an average of 2,200. This schedule ensures each pole is tested every 10 years. In 2020, 81 of 2,330 poles tested failed inspection. Of the 2,120 poles tested in 2021, only 36 failed. So far, Benton REA lineworkers have replaced 76 of these poles, with plans to replace the remaining 41 this year.

Typically, a standard wooden distribution pole is expected to last more than 50 years. Occasionally, poles need to be replaced for other reasons besides decay and old age. Weather disasters, power line relocation and car crashes are potential causes for immediate replacement.

Here is a quick breakdown of how crews replace a utility pole:

When a pole needs to be replaced, crews start the process by calling for locates to identify what is in the ground.
They either pull the old pole out of the ground and clean out the hole, or dig a hole next to the pole being replaced. The depth of the hole must be 15% of the new pole’s height.

Next, the new pole must be fitted with bolts, cross arms, arm braces, insulators and ground wires—all the necessary parts for delivering safe and reliable electricity.

Then, crews safely detach the power lines from the old pole. When possible, no power outage is required. However, sometimes they will deenergize power lines to ensure the safety of the crew, causing a brief outage to the neighborhood where they are working.

The new pole is then raised and guided carefully into position, and the lines are attached, leaving the new pole to do its job for the next 50 years.

The next time you come across a Benton REA crew replacing a pole, use caution and know that this process ensures a more reliable electric system for you, our members.

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