​​By Lisa Meiman 

On June 24-27, WAPA employees attended the 14th International Engineering, Safety, Maintenance and Overhead Lines conference organized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Power and Energy Society.

The ESMO conference provides attendees with information about the latest technology and best practices the industry has to offer craft employees and engineers. 

“It’s a one-of-a-kind conference that combines vendors, technical sessions and outdoor demos,” said Foreman III Lineman Ed Hunt. “The conference tries to bring in new techniques and vendors for people to see. We include outdoor demos so people can see new things firsthand.” 

WAPA had a notable presence in panels and technical sessions at the event, which was hosted by American Electric Power in Columbus, Ohio. 

“It was a good showing for WAPA,” said Hunt, who is chairman of the IEEE ESMO subcommittee that organizes the conference. He also chairs the standards group for Fall Protection. “Our participation gets our name out there.” 

“Ed is very proactive in pushing stuff out to industry,” said Electrical Engineer Gary Zevenbergen, who attended and presented on a technical panel. “The ESMO conference is valuable to keep up with what’s happening in industry. You can see new tools and technology that could give craft better support. Anything we can do to make their life easier is good.” 

The proceeds from the event help pay travel expenses for industry professionals to travel to Europe. 

“If it weren’t for the money made at these conferences, America may not be represented at international conferences on electric utilities,” said Hunt. “We’d really miss out if we were not at the table.” 

Safety and challenge

Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel spoke at the opening panel session about how WAPA included the craft employees in the development of Strategic Roadmap 2024 and the Asset Management program. 

“Our Asset Management program goes beyond age to examine an asset’s health,” he said. “As we all know, some of us are old and still have useful life. Some of us are young and need replacing. Absent having good asset data, collected in the field, it is hard to convince customers to understand the investment need. The craft employees’ tremendous field knowledge, coupled with data, gives new perspective on investment for our $4 billion system.” 

Gabriel concluded his remarks with these words of advice: “From a management perspective, be present. Make sure you are there and that they know you are there. Understand the technology and issues, and work with folks to help them do their jobs better and more safely.”

Safety was an integral theme during the opening plenary session with American Electric Power Vice President of Safety and Health Natalie McChord sharing a safety moment about recent fatalities and discussing how a new human performance program may prevent such tragedies in the future. 

American Electric Power Distribution Technical Skills Manager Brent Stegner said, “Many times I have been asked, ‘What happens if we train our linemen and they leave the organization?’ I ask, ‘What if we don’t train them and they stay?’ We all have to be the safety person. It has to be all of us. You can’t just have a safety department.” 

Other general themes included innovation for field employees, grid resilience and unmanned aerial vehicles. 

Alternatives to climbing 

Several WAPA linemen participated on a panel called Alternatives to Climbing Towers. 

“We all know climbing will not be eliminated entirely, and bucket trucks cannot go everywhere,” said Hunt, who facilitated the panel. “But this is beyond fall protection. That effort is done. We’re looking at alternatives with this international panel. The [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] 100%-attached standard opened the gates on these new alternatives to climbing.” 

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Lineman Tyler Johnson spoke about his organization’s use of rope access, which helps crews in rugged and difficult areas while also permitting energized work. Tri-State crews gave a demonstration of their methods June 25. 

HighStep Systems representative Gregor Wylenzek discussed his company’s portable elevator. “Many would say elevators are omnipresent, but are they?” he asked. “You have these massive power poles that don’t use elevators, and why not? Electric utilities use ancient technology to access towers—3,000-year-old technology that Jesus could have used.” 

HighStep’s portable elevator ascends rails permanently attached to towers. It uses battery power to raise a platform capable of carrying a lineman or all their equipment. There is also a climbing model, which a lineman operates with his feet like a Stairmaster. 

Another company, SHNIX, offered a solution to a different issue that affects the United Kingdom. UK linemen cannot be attached to a bucket truck or spacer cart and tower simultaneously, even in the few seconds it takes to transfer from one to another. 

Lineman James Hill shared WAPA’s human external cargo, or HEC, program as another alternative. “HEC eliminates climber fatigue and falls and helps with rescue,” he said. “It’s also more fun than other types of work. It’s like working on a roller coaster every day.” 

Technology supports compliance 

On June 26, Zevenbergen participated on a panel about personal protective grounding. 

“I tried to show some areas where industry needs to step up and provide better guidance on standards,” he said. “Standards have gaps, so companies are left on their own or left to collaborate with others.” 

Zevenbergen also shared where a utility might be able to take advantage of technology. Currently, WAPA prints pages and pages of tables in the Power System Safety Manual defining the appropriate length of ground cables for certain transmission spans. However, the standard can change segment to segment, or even by structure. 

“A crew will get to a structure, look at the PSSM to get a sense of what they need, then call the electrical engineering to learn the exact grounding,” said Zevenbergen. “Now, we’re using GIS to give the exact value and ground cable length they need electronically.” 

Zevenbergen recently became chairman of the IEEE ESMO Grounding for Power Lines Subcommittee and has presented at the conference in the past. 

“My job is to support line crews, so I’m looking at it to see what tools and technology are available to them,” said Zevenbergen. “Not every crew can go to conferences. I try to stay abreast of what’s going on so I can continue providing support.” 

Note: Meiman is a public affairs specialist.​

​Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel delivers remarks at the keynote panel

​Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel delivers remarks at the keynote panel

of the conference, June 24. (Photo by Lisa Meiman)

Last modified on September 12th, 2023