In recent weeks, Vacaville residents may have seen helicopters flying low around power lines.
The reason? Pacific Gas & Electric is using helicopters equipped with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology to assess conditions surrounding power lines to determine if vegetation reduction is necessary.
PG&E spokeswoman Megan McFarland called LiDAR “one of the most high-tech tools in our arsenal.”
“It provides an incredible level of detail and accuracy, telling us about the status and location of our equipment relative to nearby vegetation,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest things we’re looking at because anything that could create a wildfire risk is what we want to address.”
The helicopters are flown by PJ Helicopters, a third-generation, family-owned helicopter company based in Red Bluff that helps PG&E survey distribution lines.
“PJ Helicopters is a world leader in the construction and firefighting utility industry,” said pilot John Meyers.
Between April and October, wildfire season, PJ Helicopters flies to power lines in different parts of the state and uses a sharper form LiDAR sensor system that uses images to capture data about things like branches or other vegetation encroaching on the lines. electrical, equipment at risk. faults and possible defects.
Meyers said that once the flight crew finishes inspecting a circuit, they are given an iPad.
“We basically play ‘Pac-Man’ all day and connect all the dots and then go to the next course once we’re done,” he said.
Meyers said the technology allows the job to be done faster than with a drone.
“We can get hundreds of miles a day compared to a drone that can only get very few,” he said.
Between April and the end of October, PJ Helicopters flies every day between approximately 7 am and 6 pm to get the job done. He has conducted statewide surveys in areas such as Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, San Jose, Fresno, and Pismo Beach.
The chopper has been in Vacaville a lot lately, taking off from Nut Tree Airport. On Monday, it could be seen flying over the Gates Canyon area, which was devastated by the LNU Lightning Complex fires in 2020. On Thursday, it left Nut Tree Airport to survey lines in Napa.
McFarland said the data is returned to PG&E Land for analysis of the captured images.
“That’s when we make decisions about what might need trimming or what is possibly encroaching on our clearances,” he said.
Meyers likes that the survey allows him and his team to travel to different areas and face new challenges.
“Every day is interesting,” he said.
McFarland said it was a mechanism to keep communities safe.
“It’s an important tool that we have to fight wildfires because we get very accurate data,” he said.