Consider Installed Cost

“We’re about three to four times higher in pricing than wood. But that’s on the acquisition side,” says Holmes. “An installed-cost comparison is where the benefits to utilities can be measured,” he continues. “Utilities need to consider what it costs to bring in a helicopter or heavy equipment and the time involved to crane a pole into place versus how much less it costs to do it with a small crew by hand. Having portability with modular poles is an advantage.”

Linemen working on a composite utility pole appreciate the non-conductive nature of composites as well as the lack of chemical preservatives.

Linemen working on a composite utility pole appreciate the non-conductive nature of composites as well as the lack of chemical preservatives.

Another manufacturer of modular utility poles is RS Technologies, which won the Most Creative Application ACE Award at the 2005 ACMA Composites show for its RStandard pole. The company has been producing the product line for about six years, using a proprietary polyurethane resin to filament-wind subsets of ten different modules. They are assembled to make poles up to 175-feet long and can be nested inside each other to save transportation costs and storage space. The RStandard pole is rated for up to a mid-range transmission application, notes Howard Elliott, chief operations officer.

“Composites are actually the low-cost option in utility poles, considering all the factors—the installation cost, the maintenance, certainly the reliability, the risk in keeping the grid up and running during ice and wind storms. We’ve had a lot of projects that were cost competitive right off the bat because of high installation and transportation costs of conventional poles.”

An added benefit of a modular pole is the ability to add a section to convert it for tandem-use situations with a communications company, for example. But the primary advantage of composites over other types of poles is the ability to withstand storm-force winds and heavy ice loading. Elliott tells of an ice storm in January 2009 that took down more than 1,600 wood utility poles in Kentucky, while the RStandard composite poles that were installed as a pilot line on the grid remained undamaged.

“Utilities can use composite poles to harden the grid. They might install a composite pole every fifth one or so to stop those cascading failures that commonly occur with wood poles whenever a tree falls across a line or ice builds up,” he explains. “The composite pole, which can handle the additional load, stops that cascade.”