Despite pandemic, City Light meets 2020 pole replacement goals

Today marks the second anniversary of the East Marginal Way South incident, where 26 utility poles came down during a storm event with high winds and rain. As a result of this incident, Seattle City Light established the Accelerated Pole Replacement Program in 2019 to reduce the backlog of wood poles requiring replacement. City Light partnered with SDOT to establish priority lists for poles to expedite permitting and construction timeframes. We want to provide an update to customers on this critical reliability work. 

Since the program’s inception, City Light has enhanced existing protocols and standards for pole replacements in our service territory. 

  • We continue collecting better data on the strength of poles in service and exchange results with co-owners of poles used for communications lines under joint ownership agreements. We are working with pole partners to share data and coordinate future testing efforts on poles. 
  • We have reassessed and improved our pole rating system. We convened a task force to update our pole asset management program, including redefining the remaining strength range categories and refining prioritization criteria. 
  • We’ve reimplemented a restoration program involving trussing and steel stays, where appropriate and safe, to extend pole lifespans at the higher end of remaining strength. This is cheaper and faster than replacement. 
  • We are working with our Environment, Land and Licensing Business Unit to explore alternative pole treatments and pole caps that enhance pole protection and reduce environmental impacts. City Light recently conducted a pilot program installing DCOI treated poles. DCOI is an organic, relatively odorless oil wood preservative.  

In 2020, City Light was presented with several challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With customers working and schooling from home, City Light restricted planned outages to reduce customer impacts. Over several months, crews and contractors continued pole replacement work without taking outages, which can be more challenging and time consuming to ensure safety. Despite this pause in outages, City Light crews and contractors continued replacing poles and remained on track to meet 2020 goals. We understand the impact that outages have on our customers and appreciate their cooperation as we resumed outages over the summer. By the end of 2020, City Light completed over 1,500 pole replacements while simultaneously forming a more robust strategy to replace the more difficult poles that require long-duration permitting efforts. 

In 2021, the Accelerated Pole Replacement Program will build on existing processes by bringing on more engineering resources to design and permit the more difficult poles that require extensive permitting and construction coordination. The utility will also utilize additional construction contract resources to accomplish the 2021 work. Furthermore, City Light will be focusing much of these additional resources on wood pole replacements within our historically underrepresented communities. This is a priority for the utility as we strive to provide safe and reliable power equitably throughout Seattle City Light’s service area. 

For additional information about the Accelerated Pole Replacement Program, please visit powerlines.seattlemulti.wpengine.com//poles.