Mike Moreno has flown several times over the past month, but has yet to step foot inside the aircraft that ferries him and a co-worker to their unique job site.
Moreno, a PG&E apprentice lineman from Fresno, California, has instead spent time dangling below a helicopter as it leaps into the air to carry him and lineman Matt Pacini up from the ground to the top of 150-ft tall high-voltage transmission towers south of Fresno. The pair, and other members of the Fresno transmission general construction group, are working on the Fresno Reliability Project — a $200 million multi-year effort to upgrade 200 mi of high-voltage power lines between substations in the Fresno area.
The current phase involves upgrading 230-kV lines between the Henrietta and McCall substations, a distance of 41 mi. The project also includes improvements at both substations as well as the Gates Substation. The project is part of a 4-year effort to increase capacity in the Fresno area, said Mike Neer, a PG&E project manager. “The project will improve the reliability of our electric system by adding additional capacity, including capacity to the lines that serve PG&E’s Helms Pumped Storage Facility,” said Neer.
The upgrades are also part of the continued improvements that have helped the utility achieve record electric reliability for customers in 2013.
Pacini, who has worked on aerial projects dozens of times in the last 8 years, said that using a helicopter to carry crew members and equipment is safer than trying to climb and hand carry equipment up the to the towers, and also saves time and money.
“Just in climbing time alone it saves about 45 min per tower,” Pacini said. “We do get some odd looks from people driving by. Every time I’ve flown people have stopped to watch.”
The lucky few who have binoculars in their car are likely to spot wide smiles on the Linemen’s faces as they “commute” to work at the end of a long-line beneath the helicopter.
“No matter how many times I do it, I still look forward to flying,” Pacini said. “I’d much rather be under the helicopter than inside.”
Moreno has enjoyed the experience so much his wife has gotten a little jealous. “She would definitely be up there with me, given the chance,” Moreno said. “It’s a blast, I can’t even explain the feeling; it’s something I never thought would be part of my job here at PG&E.”