With power line inspections, SRP linemen help keep Arizona's electric grid in service

Scattered across Arizona are several hundred massive electrical towers, all intertwined, that bring electricity into people's homes, and it is vital that these towers, and the lines they support, work properly.

Otherwise, the consequences could be dire.

The responsibility for maintaining these towers falls into the hands of a special group of journeyman lineman with the Salt River Project.

On one particular day, some two-and-a-half hours outside of Phoenix, SRP's crew of journeyman linemen were busy gearing up for a tall task ahead. They were about to conduct something that is known as a 'climb and shake,' an inspection of high-powered electrical lines and towers that are vital to the state's power grid.

"We have some 500 lines that run through the Valley from different power plants, and then all of them are all intertwined," said Matthew Davis.

"So basically, we cover from the Coronado Generating Station, all the way to the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant," said Danny Mathus.

"So, we climb these towers once every seven years to physically inspect them and make sure that there's nothing broke or damaged," said Davis.

In previous years, this was the quickest and most efficient way to inspect and repair these lines. Lineman would rappel from a helicopter to the top of the tower. Nowadays, with the helicopter being used in other areas. crews are once again starting from the ground up.

"So you know, they're creeping up on age. Up here, you have a lot of weather, a lot of high winds in here," said Davis.

Davis has been with SRP for nearly a decade, and his job has taken him all over Arizona. On this particular day, the job took him up a 140-foot electrical tower near Heber-Overgaard.

"So, once we get up that first 10 feet, we have special connectors that connect us into the step bolts, and we're 100% all safe, all the way up to the top," said Davis. "As we're climbing up, we're inspecting the steel to make sure there's no loose broken steel, missing nuts or bolts. Before we step on anything going across the bridge, we're always kicking the steel to make sure that it's not loose."

Davis keeps one hand on the tower at all times.

"Otherwise, you get a nice little shock to remind you of where you're out in the situation that you're in," said Davis.

Being this far off the ground, and standing just feet away from 500,000 volts of electricity, one miscue can be deadly, but Davis says safety is always the number one priority.

"So, you just have to have your head in the game, and make sure that you know you're checking every foothold, handhold, everything before you take another step," said Davis.

It's a rough and remote territory, and a long way from help should something go wrong.

"There's really nothing out here," said Davis. "We're an hour away from any medical facility, so we have to take care of ourselves first."

This type of maintenance is critical to maintaining and potentially repairing electrical towers. If any of them were to malfunction or be damaged, it could have a huge impact on the grid, especially during the summer months.

"We had some 500 towers go down a couple of years ago," said Davis. "We had four at one site, three at another site, and it takes us about seven days -- seven or eight days to temporarily get the lines back up and service. So it has a huge impact, especially in the summertime."

Davis and his team will spend weeks inspecting all 500 or so towers across Arizona. It's grueling work for many, but for Davis and his crew. it's just another day at the office, and it's an office with quite a view.

"To me, it's one of the benefits of being a lineman and being out here. You can climb, you can see for miles, you know you're doing your job, but you're also enjoying the environment. You can see wildlife, you can just see everything. And it's peaceful. It's quiet out here, other than the humming of the 500 line," said Davis.

It takes SRP crews about seven years to completely inspect all of these 500,000-volt towers. As for the helicopter, crews hope to resume aerial operations soon.

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