HOLLYWOOD, Ala. - The Tennessee Valley Authority is embracing a relatively new tool in their efforts to cut expenses while keeping the power grid up and running. It requires some very special training for the linemen who climb the tall towers.
It would normally take a half hour for a lineman to climb one of the tall transmission towers. But now they're learning how to do it in a matter of seconds. The trick is not to climb the tower.
TVA is training linemen to use a helicopter to reach these towers.
“You know, we have structures in some of the worst areas that you can think of, mountain tops, swamp land, environmentally unfriendly areas,” according to Kenny Matthews, TVA Transmission Line Construction Supervisor.
The helicopter not only gets them to the tower, but on and back off the tower much quicker and without the grueling climb.
“It makes for a more productive day,” Matthews says.
“This is the only way to do it,” says TVA Lineman Dennis McCroskey. He’s been climbing these towers for years. During a practice session earlier this year, a helicopter put him on the tower for the first time.
“It was a little scary at first,” McCroskey admitted. He added, “It’s kinda like the first day of football season, butterflies then just a little bit of fear, and then once you get past that first curve, it's a little bit of joy."
When these guys are stepping off the helicopter and onto that tower, they've got one chance and one chance only to get it right. So they practice, and practice, and practice some more.
“We are protected at all times,” Matthews says. “We’re attached to the helicopter or we're attached to the tower at all times."
But like so many other aspects of their job, it's a procedure that must be learned and mastered to keep everyone safe.
The crews are responsible for building and maintaining approximately 17,000 miles of transmission line throughout the Tennessee Valley. Using the helicopter means TVA linemen can get to the problem and fix it quicker and more economically.
Matthews says, “I see us using helicopters a lot more in the future, repairing transmission lines, building transmission lines. So what i would ask the public is not to be alarmed when they see a helicopter hovering close to a power line."
It's just TVA, keeping the lights on.
Normally the transmission lines will be de-energized before the linemen fly up to them. But, some of the linemen are trained on stepping off onto an energized tower to make emergency repairs.