Posted on April 10, 2013

Kern County: PG&E Takes Flight to Ensure Reliability of Overhead Distribution Lines

By Tracy Correa

The view from inside a helicopter looking down at overhead distribution lines running through farmland near Bakersfield. (Photos by Tracy Correa.)

BAKERSFIELD — It was a perfect day for a helicopter ride as PG&E crews conducted aerial inspections of overhead distribution lines over farmland and other rural areas in and near Bakersfield on Tuesday (April 9).

Pilot Daniel Gauthier was at the controls of a Bell Jet Ranger III. Alongside him was PG&E’s Paul Begley, a lineman and compliance inspector. Together, they worked an area in north Bakersfield checking for potential trouble spots around PG&E electric lines from high above the ground.

With his bird’s-eye view, Begley found a few areas of concern – including cross arms that appeared fractured – and said that crews would be notified to make repairs.  “Could be stresses from windstorms,” he explained.

The aerial patrols in Kern County began last week. And on Tuesday, local media were invited to “ride-along” for a demonstration to help them and their readers and viewers understand how PG&E’s aerial inspections are done. The inspections were detailed in a story in The (Bakersfield) Californian and a video story on KBAK/KBFX.

Using a helicopter survey team – a pilot and an inspector — to look at power lines allows inspectors to get to places that are often difficult to access. It also saves time and money.

From the air, a crew member and pilot can access more than 6,000 different locations in two days. By contrast, it would take that same PG&E inspector up to three weeks to inspect that many locations on the ground. The aerial surveys also reduce the impact to the environment because inspectors don’t have to physically disturb these often hard-to-reach areas.

PG&E has more than 140,000 miles of electrical distribution lines and more than 18,000 circuit miles of interconnected transmission line to maintain and keep safe. The visual inspections from the air can head off potential problems before they happen.

“We are looking for obvious safety and reliability issues,” said Scott Rose, PG&E superintendent for electric maintenance and construction in Kern County. “What they [inspectors] find, we document and send crews out to make repairs as necessary.”

From the air, Rose said,  inspectors are able to spot things that aren’t as easily detected from the ground – such as trees growing too close to lines or construction projects that might also interfere with the safe and reliable operation of our electric system.

This year, PG&E is patrolling 84,855 poles in the Kern County area by air and ground  – part of the ongoing inspections throughout the utility’s Northern and Southern California service territory.

PG&E’s Paul Begley and photographer Casey Christie of The (Bakersfield) Californian walk away from the helicopter after an aerial inspection of distribution lines over Bakersfield.

Every single mile of power line is inspected annually by PG&E. The inspections are part of the utility’s ongoing effort to improve the reliability of its electric service – which saw record improvement last year regarding customer outage durations.

Last year, PG&E customers experienced the fewest minutes without electricity in company history. . Not only did the average duration of a service interruption for a PG&E customer fall to an all-time low but also the number of service interruptions was the second lowest on record, just behind 2011.

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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