A clear, sunny sky and a fresh wind coming in from the helicopter window made for perfect weather to patrol local PG&E electric lines in rural areas of Bakersfield on Tuesday afternoon.
For at least a decade, PG&E has been conducting aerial patrols of electric lines in order to have a better visual of each line the company has around Kern County.
"The helicopter lets us get to those areas where long lines across fields exist and are otherwise difficult to access," said Scott Rose, PG&E superintendent for electric maintenence and construction.
Through occasional low turns that made the ground seem closer than it really was, Paul Begley, PG&E lineman and compliance inspector, directed the pilot to the north of 7th Standard Road and paid close attention to each electric post.
"This morning we found two different broken cross arms where the wires on the insulator were hanging off the end, and that is hazardous because it can fall off easily," Begley said.
Begley took down the coordinates of the damaged posts and will have a crew go out to fix them. Storms and winds can cause damage to the system, and aerial inspection allows PG&E to detect damage and head off potential safety hazards.
"We will always find something, and we want to prevent any dangers that can affect the community," Begley said.
"If we see a tree growing too close to one of the lines or someone is building too close to a power line, that is something we wouldn't be able to see from the ground right away," Rose said.
If something like this were to be detected from the air, PG&E crew members would notify the customer and suggest an alternative that wouldn't put the homeowners in any type of danger.
Air patrolling is conducted every two years and requires five or six weeks to inspect each PG&E unit in Kern. The aerial work only happens in rural areas because patrolling over urban areas would be dangerous due to aviation rules.
Patrolling electric lines is a state requirement and is one way that has helped PG&E ensure electric reliability to customers, said Rose.
Last year, PG&E customers in Kern experienced the fewest minutes without electricity in company history.
There was an average of 131.5 minutes in 2012, down from 157 minutes in 2010, said Katie Allen, PG&E communications representative.