(NECN: Peter Howe, Northborough, Mass.) After back-to-back blackouts in August and October that left thousands without power for up to a week, National Grid crews have been out this month deploying a powerful tool to improve system reliability: Helicopters.
Flying over transmission lines with gyroscopic binoculars, Grid technicians look for problem trees, insulators, wire and pole problems, and other issues that could compromise lines and risk blackouts.
Nick Gibson, National Grid's director of transmission and distribution line maintenance, said even at the cost of several hundred dollars per hour to rent a chopper, it's a far more cost-effective, rapid way to survey lines. In many cases, transmission lines pass through wetlands or heavily wooded areas that would be difficult or impossible to reach by truck. "You see things a lot faster from the air," Gibson said.
National Grid has 2,900 miles of high-voltage transmission lines it surveys by helicopter in Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire, typically the whole network on a twice-a-year cycle and certain segments affected by bad weather after storms as well. Gibson said any chance to see and fix potential problems before they lead to blackouts is the goal. "It's better for us, and it's better for the customers," Gibson said.
With videographer David Jacobs.