WAPA Reports Steady Progress Installing Resilient Composite Utility Poles

Workmen raise another composite pole on St. John. The new poles are replacing wooden poles that essentially haven't changed significantly in more than 100 years.
Workmen raise another composite pole on St. John. The new poles are replacing wooden poles that essentially haven’t changed significantly in more than 100 years.

The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) is continuing its efforts to create a more resilient and reliable electric grid in both districts. It is producing electrical systems that can better withstand the effects of windstorms and hurricanes. The work will continue through the hurricane season.

More than 7,060 composite poles, capable of enduring wind speeds to 200 miles per hour, are slated for installation across the territory. The composite poles are one facet of the work WAPA and its contractor crews are performing to ensure that the electric grids can be more easily recovered and electrical service restored should a weather event befall the Virgin Islands.

“The installation of composite poles on all islands is slated to continue through October 2020. To date, we have installed a total of 1,297 composite poles — 236 on St. Croix, 742 on St. John, 187 on St. Thomas and 132 on Water Island. This represents about 18 percent of the overall project,” said WAPA Executive Director Lawrence J. Kupfer.

He added that as composite poles are installed, crews are transferring service lines from existing wooden poles. The newer type poles, warrantied for 40 years, are being installed in tandem with plans by the Authority to underground electrical feeders over the next three to five years.

“In essence, the composite poles are being installed in locations where the undergrounding of electrical service will not be provided. While the overall goal is to have underground service to 50 percent of our customer’s meter bases, there are areas on all islands where the underground will not be conducive; those are the areas we have targeted for composite pole installations,” Kupfer said.

While the composite pole installation will not be completed for this hurricane season, WAPA is taking steps to replace compromised wooden poles. “This use of wooden poles is sort of a stop-gap measure to allow us to strengthen the electrical system until those wooden poles are replaced with composites or with undergrounding of electrical feeders,” Kupfer said.

The undergrounding of feeders and the installation of composite replacement wooden poles are part of hazard mitigation projects that have been approved and funded by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under a cost share formula with WAPA.