UI to inspect all its utility poles in region, replace poles when necessary

A worker wraps a United Illuminating pole’s base after treating it with a chemical agent to prevent decay.
A worker wraps a United Illuminating pole’s base after treating it with a chemical agent to prevent decay.

The United Illuminating Co. (UI) has begun a program to inspect, maintain and — in some cases — replace about 140,000 utility poles within its service territory, which includes Shelton.

“This is one of several initiatives we have under way to maintain the reliability of our customers’ electric service, and to reduce its vulnerability to storms and other extreme events,” said Joseph D. Thomas, UI vice president for electric system operations.

“We’re going to look at all of the poles that carry UI lines and equipment to make sure they meet our standards for reliability,” Thomas said.

Inspect, treat, repair, replace

Inspectors from Osmose Utilities Services Inc., working on UI’s behalf, began the process last month in the greater New Haven region to identify utility poles that require treatment, replacement or overhead infrastructure repairs. The inspectors will work their way across all 17 towns and cities served by UI.

“Inspectors will visually inspect each pole and the overhead system that connects to it,” said John Mitchell, UI manager of system maintenance. “They’ll also ‘sound’ the pole with hammers to detect rot or hollow pockets caused by insects, and perform simple maintenance tasks, such as re-stenciling pole ID numbers.”

Typically, from 2.5% to 3% of poles inspected require replacement, Mitchell said.

How the process works

External decay often occurs at the ground line. All UI poles greater than 10 years old that pass the above-ground visual inspection will be excavated around the circumference to a depth of 18 inches to determine if the pole is serviceable.

The exposed area is treated with wood preservative to prevent decay, then wrapped in paper to prevent seepage, and re-buried. When hollow pockets are detected, the pole may be injected with preservative to arrest the decay.

In some cases, poles will be marked for additional repairs, such as replacing missing guy wires, or other items on the pole which may have been damaged or vandalized.

Also checking third-party poles

In 2006, UI switched from a 12-year to a six-year pole inspection cycle, mainly to address concerns about aging infrastructure and to address maintenance issues, such as missing or damaged equipment.

However, the inspection program that’s underway now differs from efforts in the past because it will cover not only UI’s 85,000 poles, but also 55,000 third-party poles that carry UI equipment. These poles will be visually inspected and sounded by the UI contractors; if damage is found, the company that owns them will be notified.

Focusing on reliability

Thomas noted that the company has several other initiatives under way to maintain the reliability of UI’s electric system and protect it against extreme weather.

These include ongoing tree trimming around utility wires, which has generated some controversy in Shelton and elsewhere, and measures to protect coastal substations against flood damage.

The utility company is also working with the University of Connecticut to develop better models to predict storm damage, and has been continually upgrading its response and restoration capabilities.

“After the extreme weather events of recent years, our customers and regulators expect us to continually focus on improving the safety and reliability of our electric system,” Thomas said.

About UIL Holdings

Based in New Haven, UIL Holdings Corp. serves more than 700,000 electric and natural gas customers in 66 communities in Connecticut and western Massachusetts.

UIL is the parent company of the United Illuminating Co., Southern Connecticut Gas Co., Natural Gas Corp. and Berkshire Gas Co., each more than 100 years old. It employs more than 1,850 people in New England.

UI provides for the transmission and delivery of electricity and other energy related services for Connecticut’s greater New Haven and Bridgeport areas.