Cooperative News

PEC aims to the sky for savings, reliability

Pioneering a program in unmanned aircraft systems continues to pay off — saving time, money, and outages.

PEC first began using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to inspect transmission and distribution lines in 2016. Flying the path of the line, rather than using crews on foot, enabled us to make necessary repairs faster and more affordable than ever. Three years into the program, this aerial technology continues to boost our reliability and surpass expectations.

Eric Bitzko, PEC technical services supervisor, leads the program. Once the cooperative’s only registered UAS pilot, he’s now one of five.

“By becoming more efficient and cost-effective, we’re raising the bar for reliability and our commitment to our members,” Bitzko said.

In 2018, the UAS program set out to improve the five worst performing feeders in each district. Soaring the skies, they searched for faulty equipment and anything in need of repair. They also made the repairs at a fraction of the cost and time.

Looking ahead to 2019, Bitzko’s plans include inspecting additional feeders.

“Cooperatives have actually been reaching out to hear how we did it — and of course in the spirit of cooperatives helping each other — we’ve met with many here in Texas and a couple out of state to get them going,” he said.

Bitzko believes it won’t be long until UAS programs become standard, much like the electric industry adopted bucket trucks many years ago.

“It’s an exciting time. We’re going to start seeing some pretty remarkable improvements in workflow and developing ways to use this technology we never thought of before,” Bitzko said.

How we protect your privacy

Our UAS is registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and follows best practices outlined by the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, as well as Texas regulations governing the use of unmanned aircraft. Our UAS program allows PEC to complete inspections without setting foot onto member property. Furthermore, our UAS only enter PEC’s right-of-ways, just as crews on the ground would do. We also notify members by phone in advance of UAS inspections.