A BPA line maintenance crew makes an urgent repair with helicopter support in a rugged setting near Mount Hood.

BPA Line Crew Puts Innovative Work Plan into Aerial Action

April 24, 2015
There’s nothing like working 125 feet above the ground on a busted goat peak to demonstrate the Bonneville Power Administration’s brand of safety, innovation, reliability and stewardship.

There’s nothing like working 125 feet above the ground on a busted goat peak to demonstrate the Bonneville Power Administration’s brand of safety, innovation, reliability and stewardship.

What’s a goat peak? That’s a transmission term for a fiber bracket, a 4-by-10-foot triangular structure that sits like a steel hat atop some BPA towers.

While electricity is carried on the lines below, the goat peak supports a separate arterial, the fiber-optic cable that moves digital communications across the region for BPA and third parties. The bundle of glass fibers delivers the broadband signals that enable BPA to remotely evaluate and control elements of its vast transmission system.

But ice and snow can be downright unkind to a goat peak – especially in the sub-alpine setting between the icy chute of the Columbia Gorge and 11,250-foot Mount Hood.

BPA pilot Peter Renggli and patrol observer Ron Totorica were flying on a routine helicopter patrol near the northeast flank of the mountain Feb. 23 when they noticed a mangled goat peak on the Big Eddy-Troutdale transmission line. To protect reliability, BPA crews continuously survey its 15,000 circuit miles of lines by land and air for maintenance problems.

Linemen bolt the new 250-pound steel “goat peak” into place atop the 230-kilovolt tower near Parkdale, Ore.

“It needed to be fixed urgently to prevent further damage,” Totorica said. The collapsed bracket lay along the Ross-Malin fiber-optic line, which carries data between Vancouver, Wash., and Klamath County, Ore.

But the damaged tower was down the steep slope of a canyon, imperfectly served by a rough right-of-way.

Totorica alerted Foreman III Scott Williams of BPA’s transmission line maintenance crew in The Dalles, Ore. Williams immediately conferred with Aircraft Services to devise an innovative method of making the repair using a helicopter to hoist tools and steel parts to linemen on the tower without having to de-energize the 230-kilovolt dual-circuit power lines.

“Many hours of planning that day came up with a strategy to complete the work safely and not take the lines out of service, which could have put constraints on the electrical system,” Totorica said. “With the use of the helicopter, the crew was able to repair it more quickly than by conventional, old-school methods.”

In recent years, BPA linemen have taken yearly “long-line” training in Pasco, Wash., to become proficient at rescue techniques using a helicopter. Those safety, communication and physical skills are now being put into practice to do select field projects more efficiently.

The Dalles crew frequently uses Class B helicopter work procedures to perform insulator and hardware replacements. The linemen had recently deployed a similar work plan with aerial support to replace insulators on the Celilo-to-Sylmar line rebuild project.

Shuttling tools and equipment to the tower via helicopter avoids an electricity service outage during work on the Big Eddy-Knight line.

“The fact that The Dalles crew is confident working under a helicopter facilitated the work plan on the goat peak,” Renggli said. “The crew has been using the helicopter, so they’re familiar with the work practices and long-line procedures.”

Foreman I Lyle Erickson, along with BPA lineman Jim Malcolm and temporary linemen Chris Westman and Tony Van Cleave, climbed the tower the next morning and assessed the damaged goat peak first-hand.

“It had collapsed under the weight of the ice,” Erickson says. “It was a mess, buckled and ripped apart, wadded up inside the attachment hardware.” The surprise was that the fiber-optic cable was still intact and functional, temporarily cushioned amid the wreckage.

Without the helicopter, the project would have taken much longer, Williams explained. The crew would have transported in a track bulldozer to repair the access road and landings to allow TLM equipment to reach the rugged site. Then they would have spent hours manually moving heavy steel parts and tools up and down the tower by rope. “We would have piecemealed it using hand lines and ground holds,” Erickson said.

“By using the helicopter, the exposure to known safety hazards for the linemen was decreased because of how quickly we can get them the equipment,” Renggli said. “The traditional method would have taken most of the day.”

Another advantage: The decision to use the helicopter also reduced the environmental concerns associated with projects in the Mt. Hood National Forest.

This time, the linemen assembled a new goat peak on the ground and the helicopter flew it to them.

Working safely and efficiently on a tower more than 10 stories high, with equipment, tools and parts being carefully delivered on a 100-foot rope under a helicopter, brings new meaning to the term “BPA’s highest values.”

One of those is continuous improvement. Safety, reliability, innovation and stewardship were also on display as the crew balanced the 250-pound pyramid into place and bolted it securely to the tower.

“Those little buggers are heavy – they’re a lot heavier than they look,” Erickson said.

The crew completed the actual peak replacement in an hour flat. All told, they were on and off the tower in 2½ hours.

“That’s what we do,” says Erickson.

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