Retired or broken power poles are getting special “tree-tment” as part of Ameren Illinois’ new utility pole recycling program and the results are positive. In 2022, the initiative’s first year, the company diverted nearly 750 tons of wood waste from being discarded into local landfills.
“We want to do the right thing for the environment by keeping our decommissioned power poles out of landfills,” said Kyle Maxwell, superintendent of Electric Operations, Ameren Illinois. “We started the program in 2022 and it was a success. We recycled 750 tons of power poles and reduced the amount of dumpster waste at our operating centers.”
Ameren Missouri recycled nearly 185 tons of power poles.
Power poles are damaged or retired for several reasons:
- Poles broken after a storm
- Poles broken after a vehicle accident
- Upgrade or storm harden the electric grid to remove poles at the end of lifespan
- Commercial or industry business leaves a community and the poles and equipment need to be removed
The utility works with Blackwood Solutions, a recycling company that specializes in repurposing or recycling old or broken power poles for fencing, landscaping or building materials. Customers and nonprofits can still request decommissioned poles from Ameren Illinois to use for parking lot borders and fences.
Maxwell said prior to recycling initiative, Ameren Illinois placed its wood waste into dumpsters, which was hauled away and consumed a sizeable footprint in the landfill. A typical 40-foot pole weighs approximately 1,000 pounds.
“When you look at a pile of broken poles at one of our 40-plus operating centers, a 30-foot section of pole is going to take up a 30-foot-long footprint in a landfill,” Maxwell said. “We call Blackwood when an operating center, like the one here in Olney, has 12 tons of damaged poles – between 40 to 50 poles – to be taken away and recycled.”
The average lifespan of a utility pole is 40 years, due to a chemical treatment that keeps the bugs and decay out of the inside. Ameren Illinois installs about 12,000 poles per year. The company has approximately 1.3 million single poles and nearly 9,500 multi-pole structures across its 43,700-square-mile service territory.
Ameren Illinois is extending its agreement with Blackwood Solutions in 2023 to include recycling wooden pallets.
“We are committed to environmental stewardship and operating to reduce waste and preserving natural resources while providing safe, reliable, and affordable electric and natural gas services,” said Patrick Smith, senior vice president of Operations and Technical Services for Ameren Illinois.