Valmont Utility: A credible conduit

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Cement and concrete interests will be challenged to find a better manifestation of traditional and low-carbon era value propositions than our cover story subject, Valmont Utility’s superlative spun prestressed transmission and distribution (T&D) pole plant (pages 38-41). Beyond elevating the industry and its customers, the Bristol, Ind. operation conveys the right message about concrete at an ideal point: 

Market development. Even without the promise of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, 2021) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA, 2022) funding that followed its contract letting, the plant’s construction timing was astute. When planning its first Northern region site, Valmont Utility management weighed expanded opportunities with long established accounts; new clients receptive to the superior lifecycle properties of precast, prestressed concrete; widely-acknowledged U.S. electric grid hardening priorities; the need for new T&D lines accommodating abundant new solar and wind power capacity; and, growing electricity demands across businesses and consumers, thanks partly to data centers and electric vehicles. A 2022 Department of Energy report put an exclamation point on the market outlook, noting how U.S. power transmission capacity will need to expand 60 percent by 2030 to meet escalating electricity demands. 

Value engineering. Spinning and prestressing concrete in bolted steel molds nets T&D poles with the highest density, lowest weight and best strength-to-weight ratio available. Valmont Utility emphasizes the engineering merits of prestressing strand, as it imparts strength and cracking resistance; optimizes steel and overall reinforcing material volume; exhibits ultimate moment capacities besting those of conventionally reinforced, static-cast alternatives; promotes extended service life; and, applied to T&D pole design, affords strong prospects for direct burial placement, significantly reducing installation costs associated with less robust options. 

Clinker streamlining. While in ramp up mode, the Bristol plant offers Valmont Utility a starting point for roll out of an eco-concrete specification: a slag cement and portland-limestone cement blend. The producer has traditionally used Type III or, more recently, Type I/II portland cement as primary binder. The adoption of slag cement, coupled with the industry-wide migration from Type I/II to Type IL PLC, will soon position Valmont Utility to document an annual 10,000-plus ton reduction in carbon dioxide emissions associated with five plants’ concrete shipments. That threshold will be achieved over the next 12 months as mix designs are tested and concrete schedules updated at Bristol sister operations.

Renewable energy. Valmont Utility is among a handful of precast producers harboring solar panel arrays whose output to the local power grid matches day-to-day plant electricity consumption. A Bristol array features hardware and software of a sister business, Valmont Solar, maximizing power generation via single-axis tracking. Hosting renewable energy infrastructure arms Valmont Utility to extend its carbon reduction message beyond concrete mixes of reduced clinker factor.

IIJA and IRA tailwinds. The Bristol plant opens as customers and prospects plan and budget additional T&D upgrades and capacity improvements owing to the availability of the IIJA’s $100 billion for power grid infrastructure and IRA’s $350 million-plus to support investments in clean energy technology, manufacturing and innovations. 

Energy transition. Across Utility, Solar and other Infrastructure segment brands, Valmont Industries Inc. cites an “energy transition super cycle” encompassing the evolution of power sources and escalating demands on an aging power grid. “It took 150 years to build out our current grid using Edison’s and Tesla’s original inventions,” observes Valmont Infrastructure President Aaron Schapper. “Not only do you have a lot of old (> 50 years) structures, but you have structures that need to be built out. What needs to be built by 2050, based just on present mandates, is at least 75,000 new high voltage line miles.”

Spun prestressed concrete addresses the grid hardening and T&D capacity upgrades critical to the economy and environment. Valmont Utility added the spun prestressed option to its steel and composite pole series in 2004. Nearly 20 years on, the wisdom of that upmarket move is on full display at Bristol.