ESB Networks currently imports more than 15,000 timber poles a year due to insufficient supply from Coillte as a result of dwindling supplies of Douglas Fir and Larch.

Since Coillte’s establishment in 1988, the company has produced poles for ESB and telecommunication uses from the 1980s to the mid-1990s with counties Kilkenny, Waterford, Tipperary, Carlow and Wicklow being the primary producers due to the quality of Douglas Fir and Larch in those counties.

It was in 1996 when ESB Networks last purchased untreated poles from Coillte because of dwindling supplies.

“We stopped purchasing raw poles, non-creosote treated, at that time as Coillte found it increasingly difficult to source pole material that suited our requirements. For example, in 1993 only 31 per cent of our poles were sourced in Ireland with the remainder being supplied from Finland,” an ESB spokesman said.

Since the mid-1990s ESB Networks has been sourcing creosoted wooden poles from Scandinavia and a small number of very large untreated poles from the US, he added.

According to ESB Networks, its pole requirements are very specific.

“Irish growers were not able to satisfy these requirements for the following reasons: lack of quantities required; insufficient size of pole; straightness and excessive knots particularly up towards the top end of the poles; Irish growers tend not to let the trees grow long enough (typical requirement is an 80/90-year-old tree) to make our pole length and this is why we have problems with quantities, sizes and knots; and no Irish growers provide a treated pole presently,” the spokesman explained.

Current usage of wooden poles by ESB Network amounts to approximately 15,000 per year. It is estimated that these poles cost €600 each to import. ESB Networks plans to go out to tender again in mid 2015.

Coillte is currently re-evaluating its forest resource for suitable Douglas Fir and Larch pole material.

According to a Coillte spokesperson, it continues to work with ESB Networks to supply as much as possible of their demand from native sources.