can fall onto each other or into the ocean. If it takes eight to 10 weeks to make a custom product, the dis- tributor might not get another one for 18 weeks because it has to get in the queue at the factory. I’ve had lead times of 38 weeks for some made-to- order items. We even get involved in R&D with some of our manufacturing partners, and we bring new products to Alaska together.” Long lead times, weather delays, and accidents are common statewide, but distance and weather pose espe- cially daunting challenges for compa- nies doing business at Prudhoe Bay on the Beaufort Sea, 250 miles above the Arctic Circle, with average tem- peratures from 54°F in July to - 26°F in February, 287 days with below- freezing temperatures, average annual snowfall of 38˝, and continuous dark- ness from late November through mid-January. “One hundred percent of our busi- ness is utility, industrial, and mining, and [power distribution wholesaler] Prudhoe oil is 60% of our business,” Thompson reported. “The oil fields on the North Slope are 80 miles wide and 15 miles deep from the water’s edge. It’s a giant swamp. The buildings sit on air-conditioned stilts that take the heat of the building away from the foundation. The earliest concrete buildings, built on permafrost, be- come swimming pools in the summer when the permafrost melts.” Because WESCO’s outside sales- people manage logistics on their proj-
ects in this “swamp,” they must be intimately familiar with their cus- tomers’ operations. John Fields, an outside account rep for WESCO’s sub- sidiary Potelcom, described a typical Prudhoe project: “We might deliver 30 reels of cable by truck on the haul road, each reel weighing 25,000 lbs.,” he said. “The deliveries must be completed during the summer and readied for installa- tion work to begin in November. They can work only in the dead of winter because the pipeline’s out on the tun- dra. The cable sits on a gravel pad, waiting until the company can spray an ice road 3´ thick and 15 to 25 miles long across the tundra to the well heads. They keep working—even when it’s - 30°F—and have to be done by the end of April, when the ice roads start to melt.” Thompson offered details: “The three-conductor, cold-shrink splice kits that our customers use cost $3,000 each, but they can’t do a splice at - 40°F so they have to build a tem- porary structure and heat the cables inside the shed before they can make a splice. A splice that would take a half-day in the lower 48 can take sev- eral days up here. Each splice ends up being a $25,000 job.” Whether operating an oil mine, an electrical distributorship, or a restau- rant, Alaska is an expensive proposi- tion. Gambill, who has worked in the electrical field in Alaska for 15 years, said, “It’s challenging, but we’ve been doing it a long time. People have come to rely on us for our materials exper- tise. We have enough experience that we can spot when something has been omitted from an order or is the wrong specification. We provide a second set of eyes, a double check. We’re more than just a supplier.” ;
Niehaus, LEED-GA, is the president
and founder of Communication by
Design ( communicationbydesign.net).
She can be reached at 314-644-4135 or
A helicopter pulls new 115kV
wire into the transmission system
operated by the Matanuska Electric
Association (MEA). MEA’s service area
covers more than 4,300 miles of power
lines in south-central Alaska. Potelcom
Supply, a subsidiary of WESCO, supplied
all of the materials for the project.