Appalachian Power re-energizes its utility inspection program

ROANOKE, Va., July 14, 2016 – A multi-million dollar investment by Appalachian Power to inspect and maintain 60,000 wooden power poles, more than 20,000 underground electrical structures and nearly 10,000 miles of overhead electrical line by the end of the year is underway across the company's three-state service area.

GeoForce, Osmose Utilities and UC Synergetic were hired to complete Appalachian Power's revamped inspection program. In late April, contract workers from the three companies fanned out across Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia to begin a visual inspection of Appalachian’s utility poles, overhead and underground distribution facilities.

This is a multi-year plan. With more than 600,000 poles in the Appalachian Power system that qualify for the program, the pole inspections will take at least ten years to complete. The company’s oldest poles are among the 60,000 that will be inspected this year.

To assess the company's overhead and underground equipment is expected to take five years. There are nearly 50,000 overhead line miles identified for inspection and more than 115,000 underground structures that qualified for review.

To date, several thousand wooden poles, hundreds of overhead line miles and thousands of underground structures have been inspected. The underground structures consist mostly of above-ground transformers and pedestals involved in the distribution of power to customers.

Once an inspection is completed, workers enter the results in mobile computers from the job site. If power poles or other equipment are in need of immediate repair or replacement, the company is quickly notified and an Appalachian crew is dispatched to the location.

"This is a proactive investment on the part of Appalachian Power," said Phil Wright, vice president distribution operations.

"We're not only identifying electrical equipment that needs to be fixed or replaced, but we've also revamped our inspection program to include money for preventive maintenance that will extend the life of our equipment and make it safer for the public."

A chemically-safe treatment to guard against insect and weather damage is applied to the inside and outside of each wooden pole inspected and deemed in good condition. By protecting and strengthening the poles, they are expected to last longer and be less likely to topple during storms, thus improving overall safety and electric service reliability for customers.

Workers completing the overhead line assessments are primarily inspecting the utility hardware located atop the wooden poles and cross arms. Contractors are asked to look for missing or damaged equipment and tree limbs touching or at risk of falling onto the equipment.

Safety and service reliability are also the focus for inspectors surveying the company’s underground structures. This process involves looking for exposed underground power cable and broken or missing locks on transformers and pedestals. If safety labels are old or missing, new labels are applied to the equipment. Crews also ensure the numbered stickers on the equipment are visible and correspond with the number that is on record with Appalachian Power. Numbers that differ could delay repairs and restoration times when service is interrupted.

An Appalachian Power video that explains each of the company's responsibilities is available on YouTube. The link is https://youtu.be/OGpdgC74RtY.

"This is an outstanding program and investment that will benefit our customers and the company now and in the future," said Wright.

"I'm extremely pleased with the results so far, and we're just getting started.”

Appalachian Power has 1 million customers in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee (as AEP Appalachian Power). It is a unit of American Electric Power, one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, delivering electricity and custom energy solutions to nearly 5.4 million customers in 11 states. AEP owns the nation’s largest electricity transmission system, a more than 40,000-mile network that includes more 765-kilovolt extra-high voltage transmission lines than all other U.S. transmission systems combined. AEP also operates 223,000 miles of distribution lines.  AEP ranks among the nation’s largest generators of electricity, owning approximately 31,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the U.S.

Teresa Hamilton Hall

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