National Grid personnel connected the new GE Healthcare digital X-ray mammography machine manufacturing plant to the power grid Thursday, using techniques that will lead to a faster completion of the $165 million project.
The plant, which is still under construction within the Rensselaer Technology Park, is scheduled to begin operations in the spring of 2009. To help maintain the relatively rapid pace at which the facility is being built, National Grid used its special “hot stick” transmission team Thursday to bring the plant online without having to shut down power to any other electricity customers.
Michael Carroll, National Grid’s manager of transmission line services, said he is now deploying 17 specially trained veteran electric linemen to complete dangerous transmission work that should allow for smoother customer service as new customers are connected to the grid.
National Grid’s hot stick team used 8-foot sticks to provide a safe distance between themselves and the live electric wires as they connected the service tap from which the GE plant will draw power to an energized transmission line and then clamped the tap to the wire, all without interrupting power flow.
“In essence they are picking up substations with these sticks. We have some customers on these lines that really don’t want to be interrupted at all,” Carroll said. “Some of these lines we can take out of service. There aren’t many customers, there isn’t a customer impact, but going forward, this new unit is going to be hot sticking, taking customers online or offline with the use of these hot stick linemen.”
National Grid officials said the technology to perform hot stick live connections has existed for some time but is only recently being deployed by the utility. In order to qualify for the dangerous maneuver, linemen must have five years’ experience and undergo a two-week training course at the company’s Syracuse training facility.
Carroll said linemen are keenly aware of the dangers of hot sticking.
“With the line out of service [the electricity flow] is dead and grounded so we can approach it with leather gloves. When you’re working with a live conductor [you need to keep a safe distance] from the live conductor,” he said. “The chances that something could happen and come into contact with the live conductor is a very serious problem. Working it dead is a lot more safe because there isn’t any event of a shock.”
General Electric Co. spokesman Patrick Jarvis said GE appreciates the expertise of the National Grid hot stick team.
“This project had a fairly ambitious time line, given the unique and complicated manufacturing that is going to be done here starting next year, so anything we can do to keep the project on schedule, such as the hookup today, is just one of many ways we’re keeping the project on time,” he said. “This is just a much more efficient way to get power to the building.”
National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella said that although the hot stick connections were not regularly performed in the past, National Grid is going to do them more often to limit planned outages.