Line and substation field crews at work

Field Engagement is Key

June 25, 2019
Speakers to discuss how to best integrate field perspectives into all aspects of power delivery at ESMO, 2019.

We are so blessed to work in an industry where we get to make such a big difference. People’s lives are better because we are here, delivering electricity to homes and businesses. It is a bonus for us to get to see the results of our efforts in the form of operating substations and power lines. Especially on road trips, I love to check out those beautiful transmission lines stretching out into the horizon whether going cross country or cross town. My wife Alice thinks I might just be a little too obsessed, but she is proud of what I do.

When I was just starting my career as a co-op student in the distribution department at Georgia Power, my cohorts and I asked if we could be embedded with field crews. Our manager, Ken Cormany, made it happen. I spent a week on an overhead crew watching transformers being hung and line being strung. The linemen even “let me” drive ground rods. I ran insulators and cutouts and hardware up hand lines. The lead lineman warned me not to look up when under a pole just in case he dropped a tool or bolt. And then he spit tobacco juice down on my hardhat just to make sure I wasn’t looking up. A little messy, but a lesson I never forgot. I spent another stint on an underground crew, learning how trenches were dug, how a padmount transformer was hooked up, and how pre-molded splices were installed. Although I only spent a few weeks in the field, I developed a gut feel for what power delivery was all about and I liked that feel. I was hooked.

I love this business, and I love the linemen who hit it hard every day. The pace and complexity of line work have changed significantly since those early days. Where before an individual would come in as a grunt and work his way to winch truck operator, then apprentice lineman, often over the course of a decade, incoming field workers now receive extensive training so that they can hit the ground running (and the poles climbing).

Here at T&D World I love to visit line personnel performing field work. Utilities that run smoothly have a highly engaged field workforce. In the main, our field personnel are knowledgeable, not only about the work to be performed, but also with the need for an automated grid. They were as aware of trends in the industry as the APS staff engineers.

Back in the 70s, the superintendent would go around to each foreman’s desk and hand out a work package for the day. The crews would then go around the yard and gather the materials and equipment needed to accomplish the scheduled work. There was a copy of the distribution spec book with individual pages collected in a binder that was located under the seat in each line truck for the linemen to review as they went about their tasks.

At utilities today, work assignments show up on laptops complete with digital maps and installation details. With GPS-enabled software, field personnel now provide real-time condition assessments. We have automated crew dispatch taking into account location and resources, sometimes with materials already placed on the job site. Trouble crews are routed according to the severity of the outage. In major storms, some utilities can provide contractors with the same detailed job information they would normally provide their own crews. Now we are introducing drones and artificial intelligence and machine learning. Crazy times!

Today, work is so compressed and functions are so integrated that it is essential that our field teams work collaboratively with their counterparts in design, engineering and operations. Why? To make sure that what we design and engineer, we can properly build and maintain.

So how can we best share what we have been learning?

IEEE has put together a field-based event called ESMO 2019. This is my favorite event ever. And this issue of T&D World has been officially designated as the IEEE ESMO show issue. I’d encourage you to pour through this issue to see how you might best take advantage of this field-focused event coming to Columbus, Ohio, June 24–27.

The ESMO show has a long history of being “the outdoor event” in our T&D space. My first time attending was back in 1998 when ESMO was held in Orlando and sponsored by Florida Power Corp. My buddies, Larry Schweitzer and Mike Eby were running the ESMO event as chairman and vice chairman. I have always been enamored with line work but this was my chance to literally be energized. Yes, I was electrified! Larry arranged for me to don a metallic suit complete with hood that made me the equivalent of a mobile Faraday Cage. A linemen then raised me up in a double bucket so that we were next to the energized 500-kV line. I then took the wand and bonded on. I had more hair back then, and yes it felt like my hair was standing on edge. Quite an adrenaline rush.

I’ve been to most of the ESMO shows from that day forward. This event is just too awesome to miss. There was the event in New Mexico and the one in Canada, and then the event in Rhode Island. Each event took on the unique flavor provided by the electric utility host. This year ESMO is coming to Ohio with AEP serving as utility host. AEP has a history of being a major supporter of this event; this being the third time AEP has hosted the show. Thanks much, guys.

Most of us are aware that AEP has the highest voltage transmission lines in the country. More than a decade ago I was invited by AEP Vice President Jim Haunty to fly a 100-mile extension of their 765-kV system in a helicopter as the segment was being built. I was on site witnessing a six-conductor bundle being pulled in across a roadway. Now that was quite the sophisticated puller designed just for this job. The tower foundations were quite sophisticated, and I got to meet with Archie Pugh who shared design details on their grillage foundations.

Two of the four ESMO show days will be outdoor days. We will be transported from the Columbus Convention Center to the outdoor demonstrations set up at AEP’s Bixby substation. My friend, Bethany McCrea is taking the lead in coordinating all things AEP. Archie Pugh is taking an active role as an AEP management sponsor. Then there is Rob Grawe, AEP’s transmission line engineering manager, who is working closely with the content team to make sure the technical sessions are field-focused and pragmatic. AEP’s Jonathan Cronin is working hard to ensure quality outdoor demonstrations.

One of the most interesting outdoor demonstrations will be AEP’s new compact tower design called BOLD. AEP will share how field teams can best install and maintain this structure. One of my favorite vendors, Haverfield, will be back showing off their helicopter live-line skills. If history repeats itself, linemen will install dampers, repair splices, line sensors and marker balls. And we will also see drones performing condition assessments. Of all the field demonstrations, maybe my favorite is Keith Lindsey demonstrating how to install emergency towers, quite essential in an era where regulators are demanding fast restoration after power losses due to major weather events.

We also have two indoor days where you can check in with the many vendors who provide products and services we avail ourselves of every day. We have a complete list of the vendors who are participating. Also check out all the panel sessions we’ve put together so you can bring yourself up to speed on the latest field practices and technologies. You will find that our high-powered panel sessions will set the tone, not only for the ESMO show but also for the industry.

I volunteered to put together the opening session entitled “Field Engagement is Key.” I’ve asked our speakers to discuss how we can best integrate field perspectives into all aspects of power delivery.

I’ve known our kick-off speaker for years. Mark Gabriel, administrator and CEO with Western Area Power Administration, consistently promotes the integration of field forces with the various functional teams. He also hosts internal WAPA Technology and Innovation Summits that recognize and inspire creativity and innovation in the development, testing and implementation of emerging technologies and enhanced work practices.

Next is my buddy, Carl Segneri, who is vice president with Quanta Services. I first met Carl when he was an engineering VP at ComEd. Then he moved over to Pennsylvania Power and Light. This guy knows and loves our business. Carl believes in, encourages and enables front line personnel to thrive whether with a utility or a line contractor. Engaging field personnel is more than what Carl does. It is who Carl is. Carl will share his insights on how close integration with the field is key to well performing construction and maintenance teams.

I’m particularly thrilled to have Tom Gwaltney, senior director of Emergency Preparedness with Florida Power & Light (FPL) come share his perspectives with us. Tom has been involved for a decade in all aspects of storm preparedness and response and has timely insights on how his utility responded at all levels when Category 5 hurricane Irma traversed the entire length of Florida. FPL was able to bring power back to all customers who could receive power in 12 days and this after extensive damage delivered by the costliest hurricane in Florida history.

Of course, the real key to field success is a properly trained workforce. We all know that safety and training are twins; they go together. We are fortunate to have Marketta Franklin, director Transmission Learning & Development Programs at AEP and Brent Stegner, distribution technical skills manager at AEP to share how this utility works with field crews to build out one of the best training programs and facilities in North America. And speaking of training, AEP is providing a tour of its training center, which features an indoor substation, transformers and a vast array of other equipment, along with an impressive outdoor yard.

I am sure you can sense my excitement for what this ESMO show brings to our industry. Now I am asking you and your utility team to come to Columbus for this incredible event. And when I say utility team, I am talking line and substation field crews but I am also talking utility supervisors, superintendents, engineers, managers and executives. It goes without saying that this event is in the sweet spot for safety and training personnel.

Come on over to Columbus and join us. To learn, yes, but also to share with us what you know. We can only perform at our best as a team, not only within our utilities but also within our industry. Let’s make history together.

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