Easier to Install

Lacoursiere observes that composite poles and crossarms appeal to utilities because of their reduced weight, making them easier to handle and install than heavy wood poles. FRP poles often are specified for installations in areas with limited access, which prevent the use of heavy equipment. FRP poles are especially useful for rugged terrain, where helicopters are commonly required to set wood poles. Lightweight FRP poles are often the only solution in confined urban areas, as well, he says.

The non-conductive nature of composites is another plus for FRP utility poles. “There has been extensive electrical testing done and, compared to wood, steel or concrete, composites are much safer for the utility crews and the public,” adds Lacoursiere. “FRP poles also don’t rust, unlike like steel poles; they aren’t treated with environmentally unfriendly preservatives; and they are maintenance free.”

Scott Holmes, UCSWG vice chairman, and president & CEO of Utility Composites Solutions (UCSI), relates that about 6 million poles are used annually in the U.S. for replacement and new grid growth. He asks: “Are composite pole manufacturers looking for 10 percent of that market? No. It’s a very small niche and we are happy to work with utilities for special applications such as difficult-to-reach sites and woodpecker and insect-infestation areas. It’s still a big market opportunity,” he says.

“Adopting new technology is a barrier for utilities,” continues Holmes. “First cost is their primary consideration in most cases. But if they were to look at things purely from a life-cycle basis, they’d be buying a lot more composite poles,” he maintains. “Composite materials that we have to choose from today are more robust and have a better chemical makeup and composition because they’ve had the benefit of 30 to 40 years of improvements.”

USCI recently ramped up production of its Intelli-pole for distribution applications. The poles, modular in design and tapered, are produced in sections by filament winding, using E-CR glass and a green vinyl ester resin formulation. “With a modular system, people are not handling 40- or 45-feet long pieces; they’re handling 10- or 12-feet long pieces,” says Holmes. “From the utilities’ standpoint, the ease of handling is a big plus.”

He notes that four sections are stacked to produce a 45-feet pole. The base section weighs about 250 pounds and the upper section weighs about 125 pounds, enabling a crew to carry them into an installation site by hand, notes Holmes. The modularity enables customers to keep various components in inventory and build up poles as needed. If a pole is damaged in an impact, the damaged section can be replaced while the upper sections of the pole remain intact.