Ductile Iron supports KEYS in Hurricane Irma

| November 2, 2017

COSHOCTON – After 10 named storms and $28B in damage in 2004 and 2005, the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) ruled that each public utility must develop and implement an Electric Infrastructure Storm Hardening plan, with a key requirement to build to NESC Extreme Wind Loading – Rule 250C.

For Keys Energy Service (KEYS), a board-controlled public utility that provides electricity to the lower Florida Keys, this new PSC Rule required it to build to withstand 150 MPH wind. This strength requirement would cause the utility to seek a pole solution beyond its traditional wood poles.

A second PSC Rule required utilities to inspect all wood poles on their systems every eight years. KEYS’ initial pole inspection in 2007 concluded that 3,000 poles or 27 percent of its system needed to be replaced. To meet the new Storm Hardening Rule, the utility replaced these poles with high strength concrete poles.

The strength of concrete was sufficient, but the significantly increased pole weight required KEYS to buy larger line trucks. The use of concrete poles led to lower installation productivity and increased cost. Additionally, the poles showed cracks and spalling. KEYS was concerned about the longevity of concrete poles.

In preparation for the second wood pole inspection and replacement project, the utility explored options for an equally strong yet lighter alternative to concrete. KEYS considered composite poles, but ruled them out because of UV degradation concerns and excessive deflection. After consulting with other utilities, KEYS decided to pilot ductile iron poles. The line crews found the ductile iron poles much easier to work with than concrete, and the utility realized a lower installed cost. Dale Finigan, the utility’s director of engineering, said, “If we ever go back to concrete poles, I think the line crew would resist.” KEYS’ second system-wide inspection in 2015 yielded 470 poles or 4 percent of its system for replacement. Instead of using concrete, this time the utility used ductile iron to storm harden the system.

On Sept. 10, KEYS endured a direct hit from Irma, a category four hurricane. It was the worst storm to hit the Florida Keys in more than 50 years, with maximum sustained winds of 135 MPH. The utility lost more than 625 poles, 650 transformers, and electricity was cut off to the entire system.

Then began the largest storm recovery effort in KEYS history. It took over $40M and an orchestrated effort from suppliers, crew members, and other utilities to restore power. More than 500 crewmembers from seven states worked tirelessly to restore power to the entire system in less than three weeks.

Of the 325 ductile iron poles used to storm harden the system, not one fell during the storm. According to Finigan, the ductile iron poles exceeded expectations. Because of this, KEYS called on McWane to supply all of the poles to rebuild its system. McWane responded. The team worked overtime and weekends to supply 200 poles within three weeks. After power was restored, Finigan said, “We could not have done it without McWane’s help.”

“All of the utility poles that were used to rebuild KEYS’ system were manufactured in Coshocton, at 592 Clow Lane,” said Jim Hinkel, McWane Poles operation manager. “These guys put in a lot of OT and worked diligently to respond to a natural disaster.”

The team of employees included: Mickey Smith, Bob McNichols, Russell Harstine, Brian Waite, Roy Carroll, Chris Bryan, Dusten Elson, Matt Jenkins, Dave Patterson, Ron Mathias, Delmont Dobson III, Randy Fink, Shawn Moffitt, Brad Bible, Lloyd McPherson, Brian Conrad, Jason Householder, Jason Fecuch, Shelby Lahna and Katy Meeks.

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Article contributed to The Beacon.

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