NYSEG and RG&E Testing Drones - A New Tool for the Reliability Tool Box

Rochester, NY – NYSEG and RG&E, subsidiaries of Iberdrola USA, know the value of having a bird’s-eye view when conducting routine inspections of transmission lines and natural gas transmission line rights of way and when assessing storm damage – the companies have been using helicopters for those tasks for years. Now, NYSEG and RG&E are evaluating how drones can assist in ensuring safe, reliable service to customers.

“What brought this option to the forefront was the need to inspect static wires that are installed over substations to dissipate lightning strikes,” said Mark S. Lynch, president and CEO of NYSEG and RG&E. “Helicopters aren’t really practical for this task and the view from eyes on the ground is less than optimal. It seemed that drones might be just the tool that we needed.”

In late October, NYSEG and RG&E began drone inspections of 36 NYSEG substations in Erie, Wyoming, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Niagara counties in Western New York. The work is expected to be complete in the coming weeks. 

“The results we have seen so far are encouraging,” Lynch said. “Drones have enabled us to quickly and efficiently inspect these substations that are part of the backbone of our electricity delivery system. We have been able to identify and will address certain equipment issues before they cause power interruptions and inconvenience our customers.”

The drone operators – from Coutts Brothers in Randolph, Maine – are licensed commercial pilots. Coutts Brothers has a Federal Aviation Administration exemption to fly drones in the contiguous 48 states. While it is not required, they post a Notice to Airmen in advance of all drone flights. The drones are being flown only in the immediate vicinity of the NYSEG substations and at a maximum altitude of approximately 300 feet.

Coutts Brothers has also inspected static wires at a Central Maine Power (CMP) substation. CMP is NYSEG and RG&E’s sister company.