Drone teams from Alabama Power, sister companies join grid repair efforts in Texas

Drone teams from Alabama Power, sister companies join grid repair efforts in Texas
Rescuers in a boat move down a street covered in floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey in Texas on Aug. 29. Alabama Power drone teams and special equipment operators are among those helping with recovery and repair efforts. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Three teams of drone specialists from Alabama Power have joined others from the company who are helping CenterPoint Energy make repairs to the electrical system in hurricane- and flood-ravaged Houston.

Four additional drone teams, from Alabama Power’s sister companies Georgia Power and Southern Company Services, also made the trip to Texas. The drones, technically known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), will be used to help CenterPoint pinpoint damage on poles, towers and at substations, and speed repairs to places made inaccessible in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

UAVs are growing in importance as tools for safely inspecting utility and industrial equipment and other facilities that historically required workers to climb up high, cross treacherous terrain, or even use helicopters or planes to get near them.

In Houston, the Alabama Power, Georgia Power and Southern Company Services teams, which are hitting the ground today, include UAV operators and the spotters who help keep an eye on the drones and away from hazards while they’re in the air. The UAVs will be able to go where high water and destruction are hampering recovery efforts. They can help local utility workers determine more quickly what infrastructure is in good shape, what needs to be repaired, and the scope of the repair work that’s needed.

Other companies, including telecommunications operators and insurance providers, are also using drones to help assess damage following Harvey.

Meanwhile, another group of 20 Alabama Power employees arrived today in Houston, hauling airboats, jon boats, and Marsh Master track vehicles. The employees will also coordinate with CenterPoint Energy crews to deploy the specialized equipment in the ongoing recovery effort.

About 50,000 CenterPoint customers remained without power Thursday afternoon, the company reported. Some 23,000 customers’ meters were still inaccessible, the company said, because of high water.

CenterPoint is deploying both drones and helicopters to survey the grid, including transmission lines and substations – especially facilities near rivers and bayous, the company said.

More than 800,000 CenterPoint customers have had their power restored since Harvey first began to affect the company’s electrical system late last week.

The Southern Company Charitable Foundation has pledged $100,000 to the American Red Cross to aid in Harvey relief efforts. Southern Company also has established a donation matching program for employees and retirees. Alabama Power is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company.

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