Properly targeted system-hardening projects pay dividends no matter the weather.
By Bill Koch
ILLUSTRATION: MARK SHAVER
When strong winds blow or massive amounts of ice and snow accumulate, electric systems sometimes blink and shudder, turning even the smartest grid into one as dumb as a stump. But well-spent system- hardening dollars can help electric cooperatives more effectively cope with Mother Nature, improve reliability, extend asset life, and accelerate getting the lights back on.
Jim Carter, executive vice president of Wood Quality Control, Inc., an NRECA subsidiary that provides a modern, economical, and effective quality-assurance service for inspecting treated wood poles and crossarms, observes that over the past 25 years the average distribution pole used by an electric co-op has increased in size from just over a Class 5 to nearly a Class 4, with the average length stretching from slightly over 30 ft. to nearly 40 ft.
"This has happened because of heavier loads on poles and crossarms," he explains.
In recent years, Carter has seen electric co-ops make a dramatic shift toward large laminated wood transmission poles, "a move prompted by higher prices and lower availability of very large solid wood transmission poles as well as higher prices and lengthy delays involved in delivering transmission poles made from other materials, such as steel. Laminated transmission poles, which use smaller pieces of wood, can be fabricated, treated, and shipped in a relatively short period of time."
For Ed Bevers, manager of engineering at Rural Electric Cooperative in Lindsay, Okla., which serves 10,800 members, system hardening entails "more a mindset than a specific project. Maintenance is not just fixing or replacing equipment, it also means ensuring components meet or exceed performance expectations. Consistent application of best practices every day will give you the results you're looking for." Bevers employs several tools to achieve a desired "extra measure of protection." Newly constructed lines are moving from Class C to Class B distribution construction standards thanks to use of sturdier Class 3 and 4 wood poles rather than the historically common Class 5 models. Random pole separations have also been adopted, ensuring no two spans are within 10 percent of the same length.
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