A Bird’s-Eye View

By Emily Compton

The drone captures imaging from above a PSREC pole in Johnsville. Photo by Emily Compton

Have you ever wished you could soar like an eagle? Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative’s Staking Engineer Matt Brubaker virtually soars over the PSREC electric lines with the help of the co-op’s drone.

PSREC’s drone, or unmanned aircraft system, took its first flight along PSREC’s transmission line between its Quincy and Mohawk substations on June 4. Since then, it has inspected about 30 miles of line and has spent more than 10 hours in the air. PSREC bought the drone in April after determining that contracting for drone work was cost-prohibitive.

With more than 1,300 miles of both distribution and transmission line traveling through three national forests and four counties, Plumas-Sierra’s right-of-way inspections are vital to the safe operation of its electric system.

The terrain can be rugged, full of pine trees and steep granite slopes. Not only can the inspection of these lines be dangerous, it is time-intensive.

PSREC maintains a one- to three-year maintenance cycle for all rights of way. The drone program has increased safety and reduced the time needed to inspect these lines. What used to take weeks can now be done in less than half the time.

Not just anyone can fly an unmanned aircraft system. Matt spent more than 24 hours training and testing to receive his UAS pilot’s license, which is required by the Federal Aviation Administration for anyone using drones for business purposes.

Matt attended training at General Pacific’s NW Drone Academy in Fairview, Oregon, for two days and spent a third day testing and flying the drones.

PSREC’s drone shows line crews working on transmission line repairs. Photo by Matt Brubaker

Increase Safety and Efficiency

Drones cannot do everything, but they can help keep our lines and linemen safer. Utility workers, especially linemen, face hazards when performing inspections, maintenance and repairs due to proximity to high voltage, heights, inclement weather and other environmental factors.

UAS’s are able to provide safe inspections, reducing hazardous and dangerous man-hours. Manual inspections often involve climbing or using bucket trucks, which can introduce hazards that can be mitigated with the use of a drone.
Drones don’t just help keep PSREC’s line crews safe. They help keep transmission and distribution lines as safe as possible. When completing vegetation management practices with the use of a drone, Plumas-Sierra is able to fly its rights of way and obtain a bird’s-eye view. With this improved sightline, dead and dying trees are identified in a matter of hours. Normally it would take weeks or months if rights of way were being inspected on foot by line crews.

The drone is also equipped with an infrared camera to identify hot spots on electrical lines. The camera allows issues to be resolved before equipment failure occurs instead of waiting until equipment fails. Catching these hot spots early, PSREC is able to extend the life of equipment and reduce costs through maintenance, as opposed to replacement of damaged equipment.

PSREC’s drone captures an aerial view of transmission line between PSREC’s Quincy and Mohawk substations. Photo by Matt Brubaker

Reduce Frequency and Duration of Power Outages

Plumas-Sierra’s drone program benefits the cooperative in multiple ways. It not only shortens time spent inspecting lines during routine operations, it can assist in restoration of service during an outage and keep our line workers safe.

PSREC’s drone quickly proved its worth when it identified an insulator pin that was on the verge of falling out. From the ground, the line crew could have seen that the insulator was leaning, but without the aerial view the drone provided, the line crew would have had to climb the pole or get a bucket truck to see the problem. “Knowing what the issue was before going up the pole to correct it saved a lot of time in making the repair.” Said Jason Harston, PSREC engineering and operations manager.

PSREC Stalking Engineer, Matt Brubaker inspects imaging produced by the drone. Photo by Emily Compton

Wildfire Mitigation Plan

Wildfire season has become longer and more destructive in California. PSREC works hard to maintain safe and reliable service for its members. Along with its wildfire mitigation plan, Plumas-Sierra maintains a fire prevention plan.

PSREC implements vegetation management, monitoring, maintenance and repair activities along its infrastructure to achieve this goal.

PSREC’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan aims to minimize sources of ignition, strengthen the resiliency of the electric grid and minimize unnecessary or ineffective actions. The plan is reviewed and updated annually, and is presented to the cooperative’s board of directors annually. The plan also will be reviewed annually by a qualified independent evaluator who will present a report to the cooperative’s board.

Vegetation management techniques include pruning, trimming, topping and removing vegetation that presents a risk to the power infrastructure.

When Plumas-Sierra conducts vegetation management procedures within and adjacent to its rights of way, easements, and facilities, not only are imminent risks such as dead or dying trees capable of entering the right-of-way addressed, but future risks such as trees with compromised structural integrity are anticipated.

Plumas-Sierra’s drone program will help fulfill the cooperative’s mission of providing safe, reliable electric service to its member-owners well into the future, and will continue to provide a bird’s- eye view of its electric infrastructure for increased safety and reliability.

For more information about PSREC’s right-of-way inspection and maintenance program, call 800-555-2207.