Company Touts New Utility Pole
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ It’s a woodpecker’s worst nightmare: a utility pole made from the same synthetic materials that make the military’s Apache attack helicopters virtually bulletproof.
Developers of the composite pole say it is lighter, stronger, cheaper and longer lasting than conventional wooden poles. In fact, the folks at Powertrusion 2000 International Inc. boldly predict that their invention could render wood poles virtually extinct.
``If our price approximates that of a wood pole, it’s kind of a no-brainer,″ says Charlie Hendrickson, Powertrusion’s director of U.S. sales and vice president of engineering. ``If you’re a utility, which would you rather do: haul in a 300-pound pole or a 1,500-pound pole?″
Powertrusion president and CEO Daryl Turner touts the composite pole as a viable alternative to the 5 million wooden poles that string electric and phone lines from sea to shining sea. While wooden poles have a life span of perhaps 20 to 30 years _ some much less because of climate _ Powertrusion engineers say their pole, named PT2000, will last 80 years or more.
And composite poles are billed as friendlier to the environment than wooden poles, which are coated with toxic preservatives.
``California treats these poles as hazardous waste products when they have to be taken out of the ground,″ said Dan Glicksman, Powertrusion’s vice president of business operations. ``The soil around the pole as well as the pole itself has to be dug up and discarded.″
But the utility industry casts a skeptical eye on composite poles.
About two dozen utilities use composite poles, but the majority of companies have been hesitant to switch from time-tested wood and steel poles, according to Harry Ng of the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit group that assists the utility industry.
``Basically the jury is still out because composite poles don’t have the track record that wood poles have had,″ Ng said. ``The utilities are a conservative bunch of people. They don’t like to try something that hasn’t been proved for 30 years.″
Powertrusion executives acknowledge that they face a tough sell but insist that their power pole contains technological improvements that will change the industry’s thinking.
Turner, a New Zealand native, formerly worked in the steel business and developed roof truss plates and other devices for the construction industry. His business grew to 23 countries with plants on five continents, he says.
Turner, who moved to Arizona 14 years ago because of his son’s asthma, got the idea for a composite utility pole in 1993 during a tour of the Boeing Co. plant in Mesa that manufactures Apache helicopters. The fuselage contains Kevlar, a composite that is also used to produce bulletproof vests for police.
On the drive back to his Scottsdale office, he passed mile after mile of wooden utility poles.
``I thought to myself it would be nice to have these poles made out of something other than wood or steel,″ Turner said. ``I met my wife at a coffee lounge and I started to sketch on my napkin.″
Turner took out a patent and lured away engineers from Boeing and DuPont Co. to develop the composite pole using computer modeling.
The first Powertrusion pole is scheduled to roll off the assembly line this month at the company’s factory in Bedford, Pa. The pole is made by a process called pultrusion, in which composite materials are pulled through a heated die and come out of the machinery continuously. The pole can be cut to any length.
Turner says Powertrusion’s greatest potential lies in developing countries that are hungry to expand their infrastructure _ and short on tall trees to make poles. The company has signed joint ventures with firms in the Philippines, China, Mexico, India, United Arab Emirates and Greece to manufacture and market the poles.
An American aerospace company is an investor in the company’s overseas operations, but Powertrusion executives declined to identify it. Industry officials, however, have identified the company as Boeing.
Seattle City Light is among utilities investigating the Powertrusion pole.
``It has some merits, lots of merit,″ said spokesman John Hickman. ``Especially because it doesn’t rot.″
But he noted that linemen detest climbing slippery composite poles. And there’s the uncertainty in industry circles whether poles made from synthetic materials really will last as long as billed.
``It looks like a very promising idea,″ Hickman said. ``But we’re all skeptical.″