Residents of the Mendocino Coast town of Albion today reported sightings of a low flying helicopter which has now been confirmed as conducting surveys for PG&E as per their North Coast Spokesperson Deanna Contreras.
Contreas told us yesterday’s surveys mark the beginning of a regional campaign to conduct system inspections “using drones and helicopters along electric transmission lines that run through Mendocino County and Southern Humboldt County.”
Contreras clarified that the helicopter seen yesterday flying above Albion was not part of the transmission line inspection program. The helicopter was “conducting pre-inspection helicopter flights in Mendocino County to improve its Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) program events for our customers and communities.
The helicopter above Albion was a Bell 407 (Tail #N411PJ) and what residents saw was PG&E conducting a pre-PSPS flight “designed to gather the information that helps PG&E understand the amount of time it will take to safely complete the patrol.”
This process, Contreras explained, will require helicopters to fly low at approximately 100 feet between the hours of 7:00 a.m-5:00 p.m. She emphasized, “this is not a PSPS, and power will not be interrupted during these flights.” The pre-PSPS flights are designed to “help crews execute future patrols more efficiently” and “better determine the timing for restoring electric service to customers.”
Regarding the transmission line inspections in Mendocino County and Southern Humboldt, these efforts “occur on an ongoing basis,” Contreras said, and are tasked with finding and fixing “potential risks to the safety and reliability of the system.”
Contreras explained PG&E is concentrating its efforts on areas of extreme and elevated wildfire risk as defined by the California Public Utilities Commission High Fire-Threat District Map. “Equipment along electric transmission lines located in Tier 3 and Tier 2 areas will be evaluated more frequently, while infrastructure in non-high fire-threat areas will be inspected at least every six years,” Contreras added.
These inspections will closely examine PG&E’s equipment “including cross-arms, insulators, and footings, along with critical electrical components and equipment,” explained Contreras”
She said that all the equipment is documented using high-resolution images which are then reviewed by PG&E experts trained in system maintenance, engineering, construction, and maintenance planning.”
Contreras said that after close inspection of the equipment, “highest-priority conditions found through inspections will be promptly repaired or made safe.”
Contreras said PG&E has notified customers near the transmission lines that drones and helicopters will be used to inspect transmission lines via postcards or automated phone calls. Mendocino County residents can expect to see inspections ongoing Monday-Saturday, 7:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. till the end of July.
Specifically this week, Contreras said PG&E personnel will be flying drones along power lines that run from “Mendocino to Willits to Fort Bragg and from Elk to Gualala.”
In general, Contreras said PG&E will be using three helicopters to conduct these inspections flying over Mendocino County and Southern Humboldt with the following tail number: N55TV and N407GH, and N447GH.