Xcel to install Copper Naphthenate utility pole in Seward

Neighbors confront power company on replacement of penta pole

After confronting an Xcel work crew on Jan. 8, Seward residents may have scored a victory in their attempt to prevent the placement of a pentachlorophenol-treated utility pole in the alley behind 2530 38th Ave. S.

After complaining about a strong odor from a newly installed pole this past summer, residents, the neighborhood organization and Ward Two Council Member Cam Gordon met in December with Xcel Energy, which installed the pole, and asked that they stop using poles treated with “penta” — a toxic wood preservative recently recertified for use by the Environmental Protection Agency — in Seward. Xcel refused but did agree to replace the pole in question, believing it might be an isolated incident of one “bad pole.” Residents also asked that Xcel look into using more environmentally friendly alternatives — something the power company said its current request for proposals (RFP) allows.

On Jan. 8, when two Xcel trucks arrived to put in a new, penta-treated pole, they were confronted by nearby residents, including Mark Sulander, who claims that Xcel broke an agreement to notify him and his neighbors about their decision about the pole replacement. (In an email response to questions, Xcel’s Senior Media Relations Representative Patti Nystuen said Xcel “informed the resident who requested a new pole that we would be making the switch.”)

The crew went away that day without installing the new pole, which Nystuen explained was a “well-seasoned” pole to replace the smelly one, which Xcel believes to be an anomaly. “Xcel Energy has received no other ‘smelly’ pole complaints,” she wrote, adding that Xcel would test the “smelly” pole, the odor of which they do not believe is from penta.

Meanwhile, in the days surrounding the somewhat-dramatic scene, not one but two alternative opportunities arose: Powertrusion Products, a Pennsylvania company, contacted Gordon’s office with the offer of a free fiberglass pole “which would solve your Penta problems,” according to an email. Contacted by Gordon’s office about the offer, Xcel declined. While the RFP allows for the consideration of a variety of options and allows the vendors to suggest alternatives, “At this time, Xcel Energy is not testing alternative poles in the field,” Nystuen told The Bridge.

The next day, however, Xcel notified us that it would, indeed, be installing an alternative pole — one treated with Copper Naphthenate (CuN), which studies have shown is more environmentally friendly than penta.

“This will be a one-pole test to see if the alternative treatment is effective in protecting the pole against fungi and insects,” stated Nystuen in another email, emphasizing again that “we have determined that the penta-treated pole we are removing is an anomaly,” and pointing to the EPA’s determination that penta poses no significant adverse risk to humans or the environment.

This latest development came as this issue of The Bridge was being laid out; we were not able to get comments from Sulander, other Seward residents or Gordon’s office. In an earlier interview, Gordon’s aide Robin Garwood did say that he believed the city — which also installs utility poles, including those treated with penta — should take Powertrusion up on its offer of a free fiberglass pole to use on a pilot basis and “see if it works for us.”

Although there is some question about whether or not fiberglass will stand up to our cold climate, Garwood said it “deals with all of the concerns about any sort of wood preservative.”

Related: see the Twin Cities Daily Planet article about Xcel’s Hiawatha Project at www.tcdailyplanet.net/phillips.

last revised: May 29, 2009