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National Grid braces for season’s storms

Company spending $3B to upgrade electric infrastructure

National Grid chief line mechanic Mike Pommer demonstrates how he replaces porcelain insulators during a Nov. 19 press conference. The utility company is busy replacing antiquated equipment before winter begins.

National Grid chief line mechanic Mike Pommer demonstrates how he replaces porcelain insulators during a Nov. 19 press conference. The utility company is busy replacing antiquated equipment before winter begins. Photo by John Purcell.

— Tackling some of what the worst winter storms inflicts has National Grid “hot stick” workers preparing for the chilly reality of living in the Northeast.

Mike Pommer, chief line mechanic hot stick for National Grid, displayed how utility crews replace old porcelain insulators with modern polymer ones at company’s training facility in Schenectady on Tuesday, Nov. 19. The porcelain insulators will develop cracks, which Pommer believes is mostly caused from being in the elements.

Pommer said the old technology was probably “state-of-the-art” when it was installed, but when he started working on lines 24 years ago they were the standard.

“We are trying to increase our reliability, so we are changing them out of all of our disconnect cut-out boxes,” Pommer said. “With our new cut-out box they are not failing, they are not cracking, so through all the weather … customers lights don’t go out.”

Pommer said the company has been “very proactive” in changing out the older technology and not waiting until the lights go out.

“We are trying to change them before they fail,” he said. “We are going around through all our circuits and changing them out, and it has increased reliability a lot. We would get quite a few calls of people (without electricity), and it was due to these cracking and failing.”

Pommer said the upgrade has made a “really big” difference in reliability, but it also creates safer conditions for line workers to work in. When this equipment fails, he said there can be a “big flash” and “quite a fault.”

Another upgrade the company has been doing is installing guards over wires to prevent animals from involuntarily short-circuiting electricity. Pommer said this has proven effective at reducing such occurrences. There are also some wires with thicker coating surrounding it, called “tree wires,” that helps reduce wires breaking.

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