REC recently contracted with pilots at Aerial Solutions Inc. to clear rights of way in and around Shenandoah National Park and the Bentonville-area of Warren County to improve system reliability and resiliency.
Though REC’s vegetation management team clears hundreds of miles of rights-of-ways each year, this was a sight to be seen.
Attached to the bottom of a helicopter, a nearly 900-pound tool – made up of 10 saws, each with dozens of blades – is remotely guided along trees in the hard to reach mountainous area. As it goes along the tree line, the large saw cuts down branches that have the potential to fall onto power lines, causing a power outage.
“The objective here is to clear the right of way out to a 30-foot width,” said Sean Johnson, a pilot with Aerial Solutions Inc.
“In about six work days, we covered almost 12 miles,” said Cindy Musick, director of Vegetation Management Services. “That’s a significant amount of work, but even more significant is that the amount of pruning that we are doing to try to harden these circuits is much more than we would ever ask a regular tree crew to do.”
Without the aerial saw, the same work would have taken months and would have been more dangerous for crews working in the field.
“Using the aerial saw is very safe compared to having a crew climbing each tree with a saw in their hand or attached to their belt, roping each piece down, one by one, so it doesn’t hit the line and knock out power.
Doing the work without the aid of the helicopter saw would have been extremely tedious with a set of unique challenges.
“The mountainous area is very steep and would be inaccessible to our bucket trucks,” Musick said. She noted that the region also serves as home to plenty of snakes and bears, which can present an entirely different hazard for vegetation management crews.
Musick noted that the aerial trimming was a team effort, with line crews on hand in case of an unintended outage and safety team members on site to ensure everyone’s well-being.
“The line crews and REC’s safety team really stayed busy, taking limbs off the wires and setting the circuit equipment so it would have the least amount of impact on our members,” Musick said. “There was also a coordinated effort with REC’s communications team to let people know if a helicopter was going to be near their property and to talk about the safety measures that REC took to make sure this was an extremely safe work environment.
“At REC, this has been a big group effort, and for our members we think this is going to be a raging success,” she said. “Trees are the No. 1 cause of power outages, and we are taking advantage of every available new tool to keep the lights on for our member-owners.”