Linemen Specialize in Live-Line Work

April 1, 2012
KT Power line crews work on energized lines to save utilities both time and money in the field.

About 14 years ago, it was rare for most electric utility companies to work on energized lines. Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL), however, hired KT Power to work live on a two-week project, and as a result, the utility saved $7 million.

The Waddington, New York-based power line maintenance company now works with PPL Electric Utilities to change insulators and arms and switch overalls on 500-kV lines. KT Power also performs work on PPL's 230-V circuits, C-tag poles and structure replacements. Because the utility has more work than it can handle, it often turns to KT Power to maintain the 69-kV and 138-kV lines. In addition, the company performed nearly 600 structure changeouts and worked several storm outages last year.

Along with helping PPL, KT Power has spent the last 14 years performing live-line and high-voltage construction and maintenance. In the beginning of the business, live-line work had yet to become a common occurrence in the industry. In fact, even today, the company is one of the few that can claim energized work as its specialty.

The family-owned and operated company often helps electric utilities to save money in situations where they have to de-energize a line in order to perform work. Because there are some obvious risks, the company, which employs 40 linemen, makes safety its top priority.

Focusing on Safety

KT Power employs common barehand techniques when doing live-line work, including the use of conductive suits, specialized boots, protective socks and gloves interwoven with microscopic stainless-steel fibers. The barehand suits and gloves ensure that the linemen are bonded to the bucket so everything is at an equal potential.

Periodic inspections and testing of all live-line equipment is maintained to ensure it meets the standards. KT Power purchased many of the hot sticks and related tools from Hubbell/Chance, and these are tested and cleaned every day to maintain optimum performance.

Most of the linemen are qualified by KT Power's on-the-job training to do barehand and hot stick work. Training ensures that every job and task is reviewed and discussed prior to doing the work. At the job site, the crew reviews the scope of the project during the tailboard meeting. The safety consultant and supervisors then analyze the work being performed to ensure that the linemen are maintaining live-line clearances.

The linemen wear flame-retardant clothing, including hooded sweatshirts, long-sleeved work shirts, trousers, winter jackets and bibs from suppliers such as Riverside Uniforms, Carhartt and Tyndale. In addition, the linemen are required to wear safety glasses, steel-toed boots, leather gloves and proper safety gear, including flame-retardant harnesses. On a daily basis, the linemen inspect all of their personal protective equipment for durability.

Investing in New Equipment

The company also goes beyond typical precautions, constantly seeking new ways to enhance safety and efficiency. KT Power prides itself on being innovative, and in the last 13 years, it has gone from one bucket truck to 172 pieces of licensed equipment, such as 105-ft track machines and several 100-ft barehand-rated bucket trucks.

One of KT Power's track units is an Altec AH100 bucket truck mounted on a 2010 Prinoth Go-Trac 3000, rated for 500-kV work. This unit is part of KT Power's fleet of 15 bucket units.

Certified for 765 kV is a 168-ft Altec AC38 boom truck on a 2007 International 8×6 chassis. This unit has the Diversified Product Development insulated boom and The Von Corp.'s boom current monitor.

Two of the company's general digger derricks, which are mounted on an Oshkosh chassis, each have a 500-kV insulated boom for work on energized lines. KT Power has another 2012 digger derrick with an Altec DT80 that has been converted to use in jobs requiring barehand work.

All of this specialized equipment is used in a combination to dig and set poles, to hold conductors, and to erect the poles. While the linemen sometimes employ barehand work methods on new construction projects, the majority of the maintenance and upgrade work is done energized. In some cases, it's necessary for the linemen to do the work the old-fashioned way, even though they have so much equipment available to them to get the job done. They then climb and rig off the structure to perform the task required.

Searching for Product Innovation

KT Power never stops exploring ideas that help the field professionals achieve their work in a safe and effective manner. Those types of fresh ideas are almost a necessity in an industry that increasingly encounters new demands. But while ideas themselves are plentiful, utility companies often lack the means and expertise to properly execute them.

Recognizing they needed help to bring some of their ideas to fruition, KT Power turned to Diversified. Working primarily in the power line utility niche, Diversified specializes in taking a company's initial idea and bringing it to a higher level of function and design. In most cases, the firm will also manufacture the finished unit.

For example, Diversified supplied KT Power with two insulated work platform (IWP) units, one mounted on a boom truck and one designed for a track carrier derrick. Each IWP is rated to 765 kV, which is the highest allowable voltage in the United States.

As the country's energy grid is enhanced and expanded, the electrical industry is expected to move toward more efficient and more economical 765-kV transmission systems. The cost to construct a typical 765-kV line is roughly a third of what's required to build the multiple 500-kV or 345-kV lines capable of carrying the same amount of power. Utility companies, in turn, will need the proper equipment to adapt.

The higher voltage rating on the Diversified IWP will be critical to the company's future projects. KT Power, however, has already noticed several advantages for the platforms outside of voltage capacity. For example, the platforms have an extensive reach. Operators can get 165-ft working height out of the IWP where they only get 100 ft with a bucket truck. As a result, the IWP makes many tasks easier and safer.

Since the IWP essentially acts as a crane and as a bucket truck, it frequently enables KT Power's crews to bring in one piece of equipment rather than two. This has been an advantage on jobs involving mountainous terrain. In these projects, equipment access can become a logistical challenge.

The IWP also offers certain design advantages. For example, it has a clean boom with no wiring, no fiber optics and no hydraulics. Because it's one sealed piece of fiberglass, it doesn't require any maintenance. However, a bucket truck has about five or six different components that can require attention.

In conjunction with the two IWP units, KT Power also uses three Diversified man baskets, including one single-man basket, a 4-ft-wide two-person basket and a 6-ft-wide two-person basket. Diversified also supplies the radio control systems for operation of each IWP.

Most power companies are still using platforms with fiber-optic controls, but KT Power has found that the radio controls work more smoothly. In fact, the company is considering switching over some older bucket trucks to radio controls to eliminate past problems.

Lifting Phases

Another innovation brought to life through the collaboration between KT Power and Diversified is a 500-kV-rated phase lifter that was developed specifically for a job performed for National Grid USA. The project, which originally began in early 2007, entailed the changing of 139 single-circuit steel lattice towers into two- or three-pole deadends, all of which was to be done while National Grid USA's 345-kV line remained energized.

The equipment allowed the workers to come in from underneath and hold the conductor, as opposed to coming over the top with sticks hanging from a crane. The lifter provided a significant advantage in areas where there wasn't enough overhead clearance to get outside and above the conductor — areas where the only access was from underneath. Additionally, the lifter could hold the conductor and move it out of the way while a field crew tore a tower down. The tool has been extremely versatile.

The phase lifter also simplified the setup process. The field crews were able to hold and move the conductor out of the way with existing trucks in their fleet. As such, it was much easier than bringing in a large crane and having to rig a lot of sticks to hold the conductor.

The phase lifter provided the efficiency boost KT Power was looking for, allowing crews to safely complete the National Grid USA job six months ahead of schedule. It proved to be one of the latest in a long line of successes for KT Power, which has gone to great lengths over the years to uphold its reputation — not only for tackling high-voltage live-line work, but for performing such jobs all over the county and even overseas.

Jeff Tiernan ([email protected]) is the vice president of KT Power. He has been in the industry for 30 years and been with KT Power since 2005. Before that time, he worked as a journeyman lineman for contractors and utilities. He graduated in 1986 from his apprenticeship program and is now a field supervisor.

William Tiernan ([email protected]) is president of KT Power, which was founded in 1998. After starting his career with 15 years at the New York Power Authority, Tiernan became project superintendent for construction of a 765-kV line that ran from New York into Canada. He then moved to the Western United States in 1977 to attend every live-line school he could. Shortly thereafter, he started his first company, which he later sold in 1988.

Dick Rieker ([email protected]), a supervisor and trainer for KT Power, has more than 40 years of linemen industry experience, working worldwide in 18 various countries.

Companies mentioned:

Airgas |

Altec Industries |

Carhartt |

Diversified Product Development

Hoffman Boots |

Hubbell Power Systems |

International Truck and Engine Corp.

KT Power Inc. |

National Grid |

Oshkosh Corp. |

Pennsylvania Power and Light |

Prinoth |

Riverside Uniforms |

Tyndale |

The Von Corp. |

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