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‘Bird-Eye View’ Boosts REC’s Reliability

From Rappahannock Electric Cooperative:

The pandemic provided many of us a chance to step back and gain a new perspective. For a handful of linemen at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC), that is true in a literal sense – and that new perspective will directly benefit member-owners.

Since last year, a small group of linemen has been dispatched – with unmanned aerial devices – to find potential problems before they can cause an outage. They are using the technology not only to inspect lines and equipment, but also to search for trees near REC’s rights of way that could fall and cause an outage.

As REC sought ways to keep crews safe through social distancing, linemen Jake Michael and Matt Fauver who both report to REC’s office in Front Royal were among those working a bit differently over the past few months.

The linemen have walked miles of rights of way. They have driven four-wheelers through rugged, often rocky terrain. And they have deployed unmanned aerial devices to inspect miles of power lines and rights-of-way that would typically take much longer to cover. A lot of the territory they inspected included mountainsides, with steep inclines.

“Re-deploying select line workers furthered three critical goals for REC: safety, reliability and the implementation of new technology to better serve member-owners,” said John D. Hewa, REC president and CEO. “Even in these challenging times, our crews continue to focus on providing reliable electric service. That focus will never change.”

One key area the linemen have focused on includes trees outside the traditional right-of-way. Partnering with REC’s already robust Vegetation Management department, the linemen have helped find dead, diseased and dying trees that could potentially fall onto power lines and related equipment. In an effort to improve reliability, REC now looks for potential hazard trees up to 25 feet outside of the right of way.

“It saves so much time, because otherwise you are going on foot or calling for someone to get a four-wheeler,” Michael said of the drones. “It gives you the chance to get a birds-eye view of the problem as opposed to looking up from the ground. I’d say it cuts the time in half.”

As linemen inspected the rights of way, tree-trimming crews would come in behind them to trim or take down the hazard trees, which are marked with red tape. While the work has focused on prevention, the projects will also help with outage restoration.

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