Safety was the number one priority as our team completed their mission – installing overhead shield wires that help protect our high voltage transmission lines against lightning strikes. Ensuring the shield wires are updated and maintained minimizes potential damage to the power lines and equipment and helps prevent power outages.
“I have to admit I was skeptical when the Transmission and Distribution team came to me saying they wanted to complete high voltage electrical repairs by hanging someone out of a helicopter,” says Shelley Powell, Senior Vice President of Base Plant. “But they really did their homework.”
After brainstorming many different options over the years and analyzing the risks and costs of completing the work from cranes on the ground, the risk was significantly higher as it would mean adding additional workers and equipment, on top of the challenges of working in off-road conditions, surrounded by 260,000 volt electrical conductors.
The team completed a rigorous risk assessment, went above and beyond from a safety standpoint and came back with a detailed work plan. They asked themselves what could go wrong during the operation and put the right plans in place to help mitigate potential consequences.
They decided to use a twin engine helicopter, having two pilots on board, completing test runs with utility workers, and even remounting the platform the workers are attached to (typically the platform is always on the other side) in order to optimize the pilots’ view and ergonomics.
It takes a lot of planning, time, and collaboration—across our business areas and industry partners—to implement a new approach in our operations, as there are so many processes and safety concerns to keep top of mind.
“It’s very hard to find someone that can do it all - there’s no one stop contractor that has this as their specialty” says Joel Chiasson, Manager, Operations, Transmission and Distribution.
Back in 2015, the team thought it would be impossible to complete this work when they first considered it. To date, they’ve now safely and successfully completed updates to six of the high voltage lines to protect them from lightning strikes.
“Moral of the story - we don’t know what’s possible until you actually look into it. We need to think outside of the box and challenge ourselves. You have to give it a try—you might fail, or you might demonstrate that you can succeed,” explains Joel. “There’s definitely a way to ensure your due diligence and ensure that there are precautions put in place to do it safely.”