Inspections via Drone Bring ‘Encouraging’ Results to N.Y. Utilities

New York State Electric and Gas Corp. (NYSEG) and Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E), subsidiaries of Iberdrola USA, are evaluating how drones can assist in ensuring safe, reliable service to customers.

In late October, NYSEG and RG&E began drone inspections of 36 NYSEG substations in Erie, Wyoming, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Niagara counties in western New York. The work is expected to be complete in the coming weeks.

According to the utilities, the drone operators – from Coutts Brothers in Randolph, Maine – are licensed commercial pilots with a Federal Aviation Administration exemption to fly drones in the contiguous 48 states. The unmanned aircraft are being flown only in the immediate vicinity of the NYSEG substations and at a maximum altitude of approximately 300 feet.

“What brought this option to the forefront was the need to inspect static wires that are installed over substations to dissipate lightning strikes,” explains Mark S. Lynch, president and CEO of NYSEG and RG&E. “Helicopters aren’t really practical for this task, and the view from eyes on the ground is less than optimal. It seemed that drones might be just the tool that we needed.”

Coutts Brothers has also inspected static wires at a substation of Central Maine Power, a sister company of NYSEG and RG&E.

“The results we have seen so far are encouraging,” Lynch continues. “Drones have enabled us to quickly and efficiently inspect these substations that are part of the backbone of our electricity delivery system. We have been able to identify and will address certain equipment issues before they cause power interruptions and inconvenience our customers.”

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