Fiberglass Poles Are Enabling Us To Fortify The Electric Grid

Some of us may remember the dominos craze. Before cell phones and video games consumed our idle time, kids (and families) would spend hours lining up dominos in zig-zagging patterns all for the thrill of tipping over that first black and white tile and watching them all fall. A lot of meticulous preparation went into getting the spacing just right. After all, one misplaced domino would stop the entire maze dead in its tracks.

Dominos are fun. Unfortunately, in severe storms, high winds and ice can sometimes have that same domino-effect on our power poles – one pole goes down causing a stretch of 10 or 12 poles to topple to the ground. It’s something we hate to experience and work hard to avoid. When we rolled out our Modernization Action Plan to enhance service reliability, we included an initiative to storm harden our system and, in effect, prevent the “domino effect” from occurring. Through persistence and ingenuity, we have made progress.

Approximately 60 lines in Division II, IV and VI-South were identified as being vulnerable to the domino effect and in need of storm hardening. Our solution is to replace every fourth or fifth wooden pole along the route with a fiberglass pole to fortify the grid against strong winds. The fiberglass poles are twice as strong as a wooden pole. The fiberglass poles are designed to absorb and flex during strong winds and then straighten once the storm has
passed. To date, we have fortified 20 power lines and we are definitely seeing some positive results. One great example is in Olney in Division IV. We identified a potential trouble spot there, so we fortified more than 40 miles in and around Olney with fiberglass poles every fourth or fifth structure. When a heavy storm rolled through the Olney area in April, the fiberglass poles did their job. They withstood the high winds and kept the entire line upright. That’s good news for those customers living in Richland County and validates our storm hardening initiative.

If the fiberglass poles can help us weather the storm, it begs the question – why don’t we replace all of our wooden poles with fiberglass poles? There are two answers. The first is the cost to our customers. Fiberglass poles are two to three times more expensive than wooden poles. Second, Ameren Illinois has more than 1.4 million power poles that are part of our energy grid. It would take us years to replace every pole on our system. We plan to continue to find the trouble spots and do what we can to prevent the “domino effect”.

Focus Forward,
Richard Mark