NEW: TES Asset Management

NEW: TES Asset Management

Co-op Subsidiary Offers Value-Added Pole Inspection Service

It’s been nearly 15 years since the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel led Community Electric Cooperative (CEC) to create a subsidiary, Tidewater Energy Services, LLC (TES), that provides emergency back-up generator services to city, county and state-owned facilities across Mid-Atlantic service territories.

“Clients include fire and police stations, 911 and emergency evacuation centers, school and government offices and water and sewer pumping stations,” said CEC President & CEO Steve Harmon, adding that many clients are non-co-op members who appreciate the convenience TES offers.

A new chapter in TES history began earlier this summer, with the formation of TES Asset Management

“We created this entity that can provide ultrasonic-based pole inspections to utilities across VMD service territory and several neighboring states,” said Chief Operations Officer Jonathan Thompson, who detailed how CEC is partnering with a Colorado-based company to offer this service.

“Our co-op’s 2015 pole inspections resulted in a much higher percentage of fails than expected, so we decided to participate in a 2016 pilot project with Utility Asset Management, LLC (UAM), which is headquartered in Denver,” Thompson began.

UAM equipment uses high-frequency sound waves to create a color-coded cross section of the wood pole’s interior, with digital readings that can be uploaded and reviewed remotely for same-day analysis.

“Over a two week period, we tested 1,000 poles using the traditional bore drill method and also UAM’s non-invasive method,” Thompson said. Comparing results, they found that the ultrasonic equipment provided much more detailed information, revealing that nearly two-thirds of the poles that would have been graded as “fails” using the traditional method were strong enough to safely postpone replacement.

To support their initial findings, CEC staff pulled up 10 poles that had passed the ultrasonic test, cutting cross sections to confirm they could be used for several more years.

“We’ll plan to retest any poles that were graded fails using the traditional method but that passed the ultrasonic inspection at a shorter interval than the usual 10 years between inspections,” Thompson added.

Based on the dramatic results of their pilot test, CEC plans to continue testing their poles using ultrasound and is licensed to use UAM products to make this service available to Virginia, Maryland and Delaware utilities.

“Our agreement also covers the Carolinas, Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” Thompson said, noting that TES recently contracted with Brunswick EMC and several North Carolina municipal utilities.

Using teams of two who can inspect up to 80 poles a day, each TES inspection begins with the same three steps as a traditional pole inspection: visual assessment, sounding the pole with a hammer and using a shell rot gauge to measure the pole’s diameter.

“The difference is that instead of drilling a hole through the center of each pole to check soundness, our equipment shoots ultrasonic waves through nails tapped on each side of the pole, that check pole strength from four directions,” Thompson explained. “Should the findings justify a second round of soundings, the team taps in four more nails equally spaced around the pole’s circumference to yield even more detailed information about any voids or weak areas within the pole that can then be confirmed using a traditional bore drill,” he added.

Optimizing the pole replacement schedule can help utilities more strategically plan their maintenance expenditures.

“Using traditional pole replacement methods, the labor and materials to replace a distribution pole in most rural areas is about $3,300. By safely reducing the number of poles needing to be replaced in a given year, a utility can reduce immediate maintenance costs, extend the life of assets, and improve the overall management of assets,” Thompson concluded.

TES is offering other pole management services in the form of joint use auditing, NJUNS aid, and pole loading analysis when combined with non-destructive inspections will provide a comprehensive assessment of a utilities overhead infrastructure.

And for utilities considering making broadband service available to their member, the comprehensive data that is being gathered can provide critical information for other applications. To learn more about TES, visit or call 757-242-6181.

- contributed by Mary Howell, Manager of Member and Public Relations.

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