CEC’s Innovation Keeps Nation’s Power Lines Up and Running Safely, Reliably

June 30, 2022

You’re almost home on a balmy summer evening and hit the button on the garage door opener as you approach the driveway.

The door goes up, the light turns on and you pull in. Hit the button again and the door click clacks down to its original position. You make your way into the comfortably air-conditioned kitchen, flip on the light switch and decide a snack is in order … popcorn it is.

Hit a few buttons on the microwave, the bag begins to expand. You grab a cold beverage from the fridge, dump your popcorn into a bowl and flip on the TV as you plop on the couch.

So, what is the common thread in this scenario?

It’s electricity.

Without it, none of these everyday, day-in and day-out activities would be possible.

Keeping electrical lines safe and reliable is a big job. The risk of fire and power outages is omnipresent. Helping power companies in their efforts is a job Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. (CEC) is proud to do.

Matt Bainbridge of CEC’s Bridgeport (West Virginia) office and his team handle the extensive workload in securing data aimed at keeping that power up and running. Bainbridge started and manages the LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) Mapping and UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) Services in the Bridgeport office.

How does it work?
LiDAR utilizes a laser light and reflected light to measure distances. The equipment can be used on drones, vehicles, and standalone terrestrial equipment, such as a tripod.

CEC gathers and interprets data from all over the country while mapping lines in Chicago and Philadelphia, as well as across the states of California, Texas, Delaware, Maryland, and Tennessee.

CEC has the latest equipment to inspect lines across the country.

CEC works with several of the largest power companies throughout the continental U.S., providing a range of services from As-Built PLS-CADD models to National Electrical Safety Code’s (NESC) Clearance Validation and Minimum Vegetation Clearance Distance (MVCD) Vegetation Encroachment Analysis.

Among the power companies is Exelon Clearsight and its the direct client contacts, including South Plains Electric Cooperative, a small utility serving the Lubbock, Texas, region.

Transmission and distribution utilities operating in Texas must file annual line inspections and safety reports for transmission lines to comply with Texas House Bill 4150. Every five years, utilities must report compliance with the NESC’s requirements for vertical clearances.

To support South Plains in this effort, Exelon Clearsight teamed with CEC to provide the UAV imagery and Near-Infrared analysis, as well as pole condition assessments across Lubbock city limits and surrounding rural areas.

CEC utilized mobile LiDAR where possible and supplemented with UAV LiDAR when necessary (spans crossing plowed farmlands or water bodies). The team efficiently captured LiDAR for 110 miles of power lines through this hybrid approach of Vehicle-based Mobile Laser Scanning and Unmanned Aerial System LiDAR. Astonishingly, the investigation revealed vegetation encroachments within NESC thresholds amidst desert-like terrain.

“Results from this (transmissions) inspection will help our cooperative manage assets in a new way. The amount of detailed data provided from inspections such as: IR, Groundline, RGB, and UDAR will assist in the efforts of maintaining a safe and reliable power system for our membership,” says Jeffrey Groenewold, South Plains system planning analyst.

CEC assisted Exelon Clearsight with the LiDAR collection, classification of data and its reduction into a tabulated format that could be easily digested within the Clearsight customer portal.

A job well done
South Plains was extremely happy with the result of this project and provided a letter of commendation stating:

“The inspection process was handled with the utmost detail and accuracy. The team assembled did a great job with planning, managing, and processing the inspection project.”

“The importance of the work is reduction of risk to the public. Our professional staff in Bridgeport serves other communities and makes an impact throughout America. I am very proud of the innovation that folks like Matt and his team have developed,” says Dennis Miller, a CEC vice president.

“We provide hi-res inspections and LiDAR assessments of conductors, poles, insulators, vegetation, ground, and buildings,” Bainbridge says. “We find and identify the encroachments … the vegetation and the structures that are too close to the lines.”

Using the models
That data is used to create 3D models of the structures and the wires. Weather information during the mapping is built into the models at designated intervals.
The models can show what happens at times of high wind or high heat or high usage or all three together.

“The transmission lines can move many, many feet during any of those conditions. It really gives the client a chance to see the worst-case scenario,” Bainbridge says.

Images like this allow the power companies to see where vegetation
and buildings may be encroaching on the lines.

Other situations that could affect the lines are bending and falling trees in storms, lines blowing into buildings, and the lines blowing into each other.

And by CEC modeling the worst situations that can happen, the power companies can proactively take corrective actions in areas of immediate need.

“We provide analysis, and we target areas to address now. We are serving as a type of preventative health care for the power industry,” Bainbridge says.

One of the most common corrective actions to prevent fire and power outages is a simple, yet effective one.
It’s a good, old-fashioned tree trimming. CEC helps out with that, too.

“When the power companies are cutting vegetation from along their lines, CEC staff can follow behind gathering data to ensure enough clearance is achieved based on the established NESC thresholds,” he says.

It’s that start-to-finish commitment to its clients that sets CEC apart.

About the Author

CEC Staff

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. (CEC) provides comprehensive market-oriented consulting services to advance client strategic business objectives. CEC is recognized for delivering innovative design solutions and integrated expertise in air quality, civil engineering, ecological sciences, environmental engineering and sciences, manufacturing infrastructure services, survey/geospatial, waste management, and water resources.

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