Utility poles find new purpose after delivering power

Spread out across San Antonio’s neighborhoods, utility poles have been a major component of CPS Energy’s infrastructure for more than a century, supporting electric distribution lines that carry power to our customers. Now, our wooden poles are not only delivering power; they’re generating it, too.

“CPS Energy supports a ‘cradle to grave’ approach. When an item or material reaches the end of its useful life, we look for ways that we can turn that ‘spent’ item into something favorable to us and the environment,” says Beverly Zaiontz, CPS Energy Supervisor of Warehouse Operations. “Since June 2013, the majority of our retired utility poles have been disposed of through the recycling program offered by Lufkin Creosoting.” In 2014 alone, we recycled more than 7,000 poles.

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When new wooden poles are offloaded at our storerooms, old ones ranging from 20- to 50- feet long and 10- to 24-inches in diameter are loaded onto a truck’s long trailer bed for the return trip to our contractor, Lufkin Creosoting, in East Texas. “Once we [Lufkin Creosoting] have acquired or accumulated an ample amount of poles, we bring in a contractor who places the poles into a tub grinder that pulverizes them into useable fiber,” explains John Derrick of Lufkin Creosoting. “This product is then loaded into van-type trailers and shipped to a paper manufacturing plant in Louisiana where it’s burned for fuel.”

Through the beginning of February 2015, approximately 1.8 million pounds of poles removed from our distribution system were ground into wood fiber for fuel.

While some poles are roughly 50 years old when taken out of service, others are in the ground only a few months when removed – having sustained damage from vehicle accidents, severe storms or other unforeseeable events.

(Image) In 2014, CPS Energy recycled 7,000 poles.
In 2014, CPS Energy recycled 7,000 poles.

“Our goal is to have poles in service for a 30-year life,” says Esteban Garza of Overhead Engineering.

Although we don’t directly profit from the pole recycling process, we are able to save precious landfill space and avoid costly landfill disposal fees – benefitting our environment as well as our customers.

In fact, we even recycle the hardware mounted on poles. “Our line crews typically remove all hardware from a pole before it’s uprooted,” says Zaiontz. “This hardware is recycled through our metal recycling program.” Collectively, we’ve recycled more than 468,000 tons of materials in 2013 – from poles and scrap metal to tires and fly ash collected at our power stations.

Scott Wudel

Scott was part of the Corporate Communications team at CPS Energy.

10 thoughts on “Utility poles find new purpose after delivering power

  • In the past, used poles were made availalbe to CPS employees for use in building fences and pole barns where CPS was able to recover some cost through this purchase. As employee’s and customers, would it be possible to start allowing CPS enployee’s to purchase poles again so that CPS can recover some cost; it is stated above that currently CPS does not ‘directly profit’. This could be handled with little effort on CPS’s part being that they have to load out poles already and would help CPS and its employee’s.

  • I’m sure there would be other individuals interested in purchasing these as well. I can envision an entrepreneur buying these poles, milling them to rail-road tie size, and re-selling them for landscaping.

    • I am a CPS customer and am looking for some for a set of cattle pens I want to build.

      will CPS let me pick some up?

      • I’m sorry. We recycle our utility poles. We don’t make them available for purchase.

  • They make good piers for foundations

  • Power poles are saturated with creosote and burning them releases toxic chemicals. Per the EPA: “Do not burn wood in open fires or in stoves, fireplaces, or residential boilers because toxic chemicals may be produced as part of the smoke and ashes.” Has this been considered?

    • Fortunately, the poles are first pulverized into fiber and then burned inside a plant, not in the open. Thanks for the question!

  • What kind of backasswards ideology is this? Lets not make the poles available for ACTUAL recyclers to use, no, lets bar their availability to this 1 contractor and BURN them to release toxic chemicals. Great thinking. smh

  • Question: I live on 3500 Goliad Rd. across from Brooks Academy School. I’ve heard the new steel construction is a combination of adding a high school and possibly other things. That is not my concern. There are utility poles that have been installed next to the existing utility poles. These extra poles have a neon orange cladding wrapped around them near the top. Is this some aviation warning? The odor is horrendous when they are welding and we hear noise like heaving artillery being fired. Our community never received any information or warning. The odor is necessary, but we feel like we should have received info so some of us could have relocated temporarily with other family members during this construction. I KNOW it’s welding odor but what are we breathing? Once it penetrated the home, it’s very difficult to remove it. What are we breathing in the sense of chemicals? How long will this be going on? Thank you

  • Selling them to the public for fencing or landscaping would be a great way to make back money for CPS Energy, there is so many uses for the used poles


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