Drones, helicopters take part in PG&E safety checkups | TheUnion.com

Drones, helicopters take part in PG&E safety checkups

PG&E has been conducting safety inspections on critical grid infrastructure in Grass Valley using helicopters and drones, according to a spokesperson.

The inspections, which began April 13, are aimed at ensuring the safety and reliability of major assets such as electrical cross arms, overhead power line insulators, and tower foundations, said Megan McFarland, communications representative for PG&E.

The company’s drones and helicopters have been taking high-definition pictures of grid equipment to provide to inspection teams. PG&E has also been sending ground crews to analyze electric towers, lines, and poles for potential risks, McFarland said.

The inspections are taking place in two separate phases. In the first phase, the drones, helicopters, and ground crews are taking pictures of grid infrastructure for further review. Those images are analyzed by PG&E’s inspections department, which then determines whether a second phase of checkups are necessary in certain areas where equipment could be vulnerable or faulty.

The first phase of the process wrapped up this week, though more aerial vehicles could be deployed if PG&E finds any safety concerns with its Grass Valley infrastructure, McFarland said.

Grass Valley is considered a high risk fire area.

PG&E equipment failures have been blamed for multiple wildfires in Northern California in the last couple of years, including the deadly Paradise blaze in 2018 that destroyed almost 15,000 homes and killed 85 people. An investigation by Cal Fire revealed that faulty power lines, operated by PG&E, caused the spark that ignited the Paradise Fire.

The power company was also criticized after the Zogg Fire killed four people in Shasta County last September. The fire began after a tree fell onto a distribution line, causing equipment failure and sparking the blaze. A review of the fire by the California Public Utilities Commission’s Public Advocates concluded that PG&E had failed to conduct inspections of distribution lines in high risk fire areas. The commission specifically stated that PG&E should have used drones and helicopters to check such distribution lines to ensure their integrity.

No particular equipment failure or natural disaster prompted this latest inspection program, rather PG&E conducts such reviews of its grid periodically to ensure that equipment is up and running and in good condition, McFarland said.

“These inspections keep our customers and our communities safe, by making sure that our infrastructure is safe, that there’s no issues and no damage there,” she added.

Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at swyer@theunion.com.

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