Power out in your neighborhood? Could be rotting utility poles

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Parts of the Beverly Woods neighborhood lost power last month on a clear, sunny day. The reason? An old, rotten utility pole had come crashing down across Sharon Road.

The scourge of time is a constant battle for Charlotte utility workers. Wooden utility poles installed in the late 1970s and early 80s — just as Charlotte began its rapid growth — are now reaching the end of their useful life, generally 40 years.

Occasionally, one will slip through the cracks. News reports show episodic power outages across the city from rotten utility poles.

Duke Energy reports that it maintains 4.3 million utility poles in North and South Carolina, and inspects hundreds of thousands each year.

Utility consultant Jacke Grawe said companies generally inspect 20 percent of their poles each year, meaning each pole is checked out roughly every five years.

Decayed poles are immediately replaced, and weakening ones are placed in a queue for future maintenance. The rate of decay generally depends more on environmental conditions — like weather — than age.

About 100 poles in the Carolinas each year fail, but not all of them fall, Duke Energy says.

Curious about the double poles you see around Charlotte?

That typically means that Duke Energy has replaced an aging utility pole, but the other telecom companies that use it haven’t changed over their wires to the new one yet.

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Andrew Dunn
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