Connecticut-based Eversource Energy has announced the start of a new program Wednesday that will use unmanned aerial drones to conduct regular inspections of power lines and other hard-to-reach electrical infrastructure in the Granite State.

Aimed at reducing the company’s dependence on helicopter inspections, Eversource plans to incorporate drones into 100 percent of its regular comprehensive line and equipment foot patrol inspections in New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Eversource says the electric drones will minimize the need for periodic inspections by low-flying helicopters, reduce the company’s use of fossil fuels and lower the costs associated with annual inspections that are paid by consumers.

Officials noted in a new release that helicopters will still be used for infrared inspections, construction projects and surveillance of storm damage to the utility’s infrastructure.

In a clearing near the company’s Hooksett substation on Legends Drive on Wednesday morning, officials from Eversource held a public demonstration where drone pilot Allen Tweed of Mesa Associates Inc., the engineering firm that Eversource has contracted to operate the drones in New Hampshire, simulated a power line inspection.

“It’s great for maintenance and reliability for the utility,” said Tweed of the benefit that drone inspections bring to the table. “A lot of times we can find potential problems before they actually cause problems. We turn all of our photographs over to the utility, and then they actually generate work orders to fix anything that we find.”

Carol Burke, Eversource’s manager of transmission line operations in New Hampshire, said the company first began testing the inspection drones in New Hampshire in 2016 in Nashua. Noting the improvement in drone technology since then, Burke said the company made the decision to fully adopt drone inspections as a way to get better quality pictures of power lines.

“At first, we really were just targeting specific lines that we knew we might have some issues. It worked out great, and in the last two years we ended up developing a more formal program,” Burke said. “It’s a great way to do an inspection with very clear, detailed videos and pictures you can see any type of defect, aging or rotting on a structure.”

Although she noted that comprehensive drone inspections are more time consuming than they would be if done with a helicopter, Burke says the image quality of the pictures more than makes up for the additional man-hours.

“It takes a lot longer to do an inspection from the ground with the drone than it would from a helicopter. But the benefit of it is the details that you get with it, and the fact that we can identify much quicker anything that might be failing on the structure,” she said.

Burke said the first drone inspections began last week in Berlin and that three more drones were scheduled to begin work on lines in the southern part of the state sometime this past weekend.

For more information, visit www.eversource.com

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