NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry

Line Construction -- A Firsthand View

Posted on Nov 05, 2009 by John M Grau

How many electrical contractors work on a construction site that’s 65 miles long? If you’re a line constructor, it’s no big deal.

A couple weeks ago, I and several other staff from NECA's national office were invited to visit a line construction job site in Northern Virginia. We were hosted by NECA District 10 VP Bill Green and the L.E. Myers Company. The job was a 500kv transmission line being built for Dominion Virginia Power.

The job had some unique aspects. It is being built on an existing right-of-way. The new line is being built next to an existing energized line. When the new line is finished, the old line will be dismantled. The right-of-way goes through a national park and a Civil War battlefield park and across a major interstate highway.

We were told that it was a real challenge for the contractor to work in such tight quarters. Usually when I think of tight working conditions, I envision a small utility closet, not wide open fields or several-acre substations. But I soon learned that building towers on a narrow right-of-way next to an existing energized line is no piece of cake. In fact, my vision of hanging from a steel tower was soon dashed — when we were emphatically told not to touch anything. There’s this small matter of induction.

Safety is a big issue with line workers. We saw first-hand the extraordinary measures that are taken to ensure safe work practices. As the power lines crackled above us, it was obvious that even a small mistake can result in serious injury or death. The employer spends a lot of time and money to make sure each worker is trained in safety procedures before they get to the job site.

I was also struck by the investment in tools and equipment that the contractor had to make to work on a project like this. An electrician with a ladder and a pickup truck is a long way from becoming a transmission line constructor. The cost of one large crane is more than the annual revenues of many inside contractors.

I’ve always had great respect for NECA’s District 10 members. It was good to get a chance to see first-hand the challenges of a line construction job and to gain an even deeper understanding of what it takes to be competitive in that market.

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NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.

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