About the Coop

Researching ways to extend utility pole service life

Wood poles have been used to support electric transmission and telecommunication lines since the late 1800's. These poles have provided long reliable service under a variety of environmental conditions. Originally, utilities used naturally durable wood species such as American chestnut and cedar. The loss of chestnut to disease and the limited supply of cedar wood forced many utilities to substitute less durable species such as pine or Douglas-fir. These species required supplemental preservative application to provide long-term service life and encouraged the development of a wood-treatment industry, specifications for proper preservative use, and later, inspection programs to ensure poles retained adequate strength to support their design loads.

For many years, detection and control of decay in utility poles posed a major challenge for utilities, but the development of fumigants in the late 1960's opened many new avenues to prolong the useful life of wood. Oregon State University (OSU) had long been active in utility pole issues, but the development of fumigants led to a increasing emphasis on improving the performance of wood poles and finally, in 1980 to the establishment of Utility Pole Research Cooperative (Coop). Originally established to develop new fumigants and assess the effects of air seasoning on pole properties, the Coop has changed its focus over the past 37 years to address a variety of wood-related issues that improve the performance of wood, making utilities more competitive.

Benefits of membership

The coop provides both tangible and intangible benefits to members. First, members have access to information on solutions to a variety of wood issues. In addition, they have input on what problems are addressed and, in many cases, the information developed originates from poles in their systems. The intangibles of Coop membership include the opportunity to exchange information with other wood users and identify similar problems. This component of the Coop has become increasingly important as deregulation has pitted utilities against one another and limited the potential for exchange. We also assist utilities in reviewing specifications and, to a limited extent, can assist in the analysis of pole failures.


How the Coop works

The Coop is a consortium of utilities, chemical companies, wood treaters, and inspection agencies that work together under a single unified work plan. All members provide some level of financial support and sign a universal agreement outlining member rights and privileges. In recognition of the willingness of this diverse audience to support research, the University reduces its normal overhead or indirect cost changes from 43% of total costs to 10%. This maximizes Coop member investment.

At present, full membership is limited to utilities who provide $15,000 per year, while other entities (chemical companies, treaters, etc.) are considered Associate Members and provide $7,500 per year. All Coop members are asked to provide a representative for the Coop Advisory Committee which meets at least once each year to review progress and provide input on research direction. Every two to three years, OSU develops a work plan which is circulated to the current and potential coop members who comment on the scope and value of the proposed work. The comments are than used to formulate a single proposal which addresses a number of objectives common to the members. OSU then performs the proposed work, usually in conjunction with member utilities and suppliers. Many of the field test sites, for example, are located in members' utility systems in order to produce data meaningful to member utilities in their regions.

Current Coop work is divided into a series of overall objectives that include:

  • Identifying and evaluating methods for controlling internal decay in poles
  • Identifying methods for field treatment of surface damage to treated wood
  • Developing improved specifications for wood poles
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of external groundline treatments
  • Developing information on performance of new preservatives for wood poles

Each year, OSU prepares an annual report detailing the activities and research progress of the Coop, presents these data to the advisory committee at an annual meeting, and receives feedback on the research direction. The goal is to allow members to have maximum project input.