“It used to be that our challenge was convincing prospects that fiberglass is a superior alternative to wood,” says Dean Casad, vice president of product and marketing for GEOTEK in Stewartville, Minn. “Now it seems that prospects are pre-sold on fiberglass and coming to us for help making the switch.”

One of those companies is High Plains Power, which sought out GEOTEK when it needed to replace wood crossarms on H-frame transmission structures. The company already used GFRP products for distribution lines and felt confident that GEOTEK’s PUPI® products could meet its demanding needs. High Plains Power installed PUPI crossarms, which feature a polyurethane foam fill, along 100 miles of a heavy-duty transmission line in a region known for its harsh weather and tough terrain.

Motivation to Move to Composites

According to Casad, crossarms – those horizontal supports actually holding the power lines – are the component seeing the biggest shift from wood to GFRP. “The big competition is still the traditional materials of construction, i.e. wood,” says Dustin Troutman, director of marketing and product development for Creative Pultrusions in Alum Bank, Pa. “Wood still dominates the crossarm market, especially the power pole market, from a distribution level – [but] wood is losing a lot of market share.”

Indeed, over the last seven years, High Plains Power has gradually switched almost 100 percent of its 80,000 crossarms to GEOTEK’s PUPI crossarms. “We no longer even use wooden crossarms,” says McDonald.

For APCO, the biggest benefit offered by composite crossarms is their strength-to-weight ratio. Typically, on dead-end towers, which serve as a heavy “anchor” along transmission lines, the company uses two 9-foot wooden crossarms. “Each arm weighs approximately 90 pounds, which is a lot of weight for the line mechanic to handle off a set of hooks. One 10-foot heavy-duty fiberglass arm, weighing only around 80 pounds, can take the place of two 9-foot wooden arms,” Brammer says.

While United Electric typically does not use GFRP poles due to the upfront price, there are areas where the cooperative can’t deny that the benefits outweigh the cost. For instance, the utility company relied on GFRP for pole structures in a critical valley crossing to prevent woodpecker damage. “We had two three-pole structures on either side of a 1,600-foot valley crossing that the woodpeckers kept attacking,” says Long. “Patching and bird deterrents did not work, so in came fiberglass.”

As composite products prove their worth over alternatives, electric companies aren’t the only utilities recognizing these advantages. “Some of the biggest change we are seeing on the West Coast is a major push from local utility entities specifying the use of polymer enclosures over concrete. These enclosures primarily house water meters, cable company connections, power connections and sewer components,” says Mark Yoakum, polymer concrete manager for Jensen Precast in Las Vegas. “Polymers’ inherent nonconductive matrix and the ability to retain a coefficient surface much longer is a major factor in their decision.”