Posted on April 27, 2017

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, it’s PG&E Line Workers Using Helicopters for Tower Work

By Tamar Sarkissian

LIVERMORE — Imagine looking straight down 200 feet. You’re not standing on top of a building, bridge or cliff. You’re flying. Harnessed to a line and suspended from a helicopter, you’re on your way to the top of a high voltage transmission tower. What seems like a daredevil stunt to most is just part of the job for PG&E line workers.

PG&E first used long lining about a decade ago as a way to ferry line workers to the top of transmission towers and hard-to-access equipment. (Photos by Tamar Sarkissian.)

The heart-pounding technique is called long lining. PG&E line workers first used long lining about a decade ago, transporting line workers to the top of transmission towers and other hard-to-access equipment to do their work.

Recently, PG&E line workers gathered at the company’s Livermore training facility for a training session.

“It’s like when you first take your kid to Magic Mountain or Disneyland,” said John Ceja, one of the instructors at the training.

At the training, Nick Moretto, a PG&E apprentice lineman, took his first test drive of sorts. Moments after being set back down on solid ground, he described the experience.

“It’s pretty fun. It’s kind of like an amusement park ride,” said Moretto.

Long lining is often used in remote areas and has been invaluable during wildfires and winter storms.

Long lining is often used in remote areas. It was invaluable during the Valley Fire, as well as recent storms that ravaged Northern California, providing access to work locations blocked by wildfire and mudslides.

Electric projects that span large bodies of water, including power line reconductoring work parallel to the Dumbarton Bridge over the San Francisco Bay, also benefit from the use of long lining.

“If we had to work on a 500 kilovolt tower and you’re climbing it, you might complete one tower a day. If you use a helicopter, you might complete three towers a day,” said Ceja.

Using helicopters reduces the need for heavy trucks and equipment on the ground, lessening a project’s environmental impacts. It also protects linemen from the wear and tear of the job.

Training helps ensure the safety and reliability of PG&E's electric system.

“This plays a huge role for safety and ergonomics. We’re not climbing the tower as much. Our bodies, after a while, they start to get broke up pretty good, so the ergo part on this is huge,” said Ceja, a former transmission lineman.

This work helps ensure the safety and reliability of PG&E’s electric system. PG&E delivered its second best reliability numbers in history in 2016, despite the challenging weather.

After a day of classroom training and multiple rides to-and-from non-electrified training towers, line worker Moretto shook off the initial nerves and is ready to use long lining in the field. He explained that his role at PG&E is more than just a job, it’s a passion.

“I love it,” said Moretto. “I’ll be here until I retire.”

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