United Energy takes to the skies for inspections

United Energy worker in crane bucket trims back vegetation to ensure they do not reach powerlines
Image: United Energy

Powerline inspections from the air have begun in Melbourne’s south-east suburbs and the Mornington Peninsula this month as part of electricity distributor United Energy’s year-round vegetation inspection and tree-cutting program.

The helicopters are fitted with advanced Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology to accurately scan for trees and branches growing near to powerlines. This information is fed back to experienced teams that will cut the vegetation away from powerlines to keep the network and community safe.

United Energy’s vegetation management program is responsible for cutting and removal of trees near its 184,000 spans of powerlines within the boundaries of private properties and on public land across Melbourne’s east and south eastern suburbs, as well as the Mornington Peninsula.

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United Energy head of vegetation management Chris Heinz said the program was a critical part of keeping the network safe and reliable for customers.

“Our work is about reducing the risk of trees and branches coming into contact with powerlines, which can lead to power outages and fires,” Heinz said.

“By inspecting the entire network every year, we are able to determine where and when we need to cut trees and branches away from powerlines.”

Teams then attend each site, both on private and public property, to assess and scope what cutting needs to occur. If crews are required to cut trees on private property, United Energy will notify customers in advance of any cutting unless the work needs to occur immediately for safety reasons.

“We work closely with our contractors to ensure branches are kept clear of powerlines, allowing for expected growth rates,” Heinz said.

“Last year we cut vegetation back from more than 43,000 powerline spans and with this summer’s wetter conditions, we expect to do just as much, if not more, in 2022.”

He said United Energy had made significant investments towards improving its vegetation management in recent years, including bringing its aerial capacity and LiDAR data analysis in-house.

“We’re able to use the data from our LiDAR helicopter scans to form a 3D model of the network, where our teams can identify branches requiring trimming,” Heinz said.

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Headed up by a team of highly qualified pilots, the United Energy flights are taking place over the next month across the south east suburbs and Mornington Peninsula.

Weather permitting, the Bell 505 helicopters fly at an altitude of just over 300m, capturing enormous amounts of data to form an accurate image of powerlines across the region.

United Energy is responsible for the cutting and removal of trees near its powerlines within the boundaries of private properties and on public land as part of Victoria’s requirements set by the state’s energy safety regulator.

The helicopters are operated by the network’s affiliate business, Beon Aerial Services.

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