Reaching New Heights at MEC

Drone program helps protect infrastructure and improve reliability

Jared White, UAV PilotMohave Electric Cooperative has a new tool in its toolshed to help keep members’ costs low – an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), aka Drone.

The new drone program is the next step in protecting MEC’s infrastructure and facilities to improve reliability. The drone will be used for a variety of things, but chiefly it will be instrumental in inspecting the lines, poles, crossarms and equipment – especially in the most remote areas - to catch any issues before they can cause an outage.

“Implementation of the drone program will help with distribution, substation and power line inspections,” said Jerry Hardy, MEC Manager of Engineering and Operations. “These inspections will be crucial, helping MEC to find areas in need of attention and ultimately improving reliability within MEC’s electrical system.”

Drone being use to inspect powerlinesDrones equipped with cameras and other sensors can be used to inspect power lines, transmission towers, and other infrastructure for signs of damage or wear. This can help utilities identify potential problems before they become serious.

To fly the drone, MEC hired Jared White as MEC’s official UAV Pilot. White has strong local ties, having graduated from Mohave High School in Bullhead City in 2010 and former Director of Technology for the local school district. Also, having grown up as a child of a Naval F-18 mechanic, White was exposed to flying at an early age.

“Through my adolescence, I was greatly intrigued by aviation. I began flying radio-controlled aircraft in 2010 as a hobby just after graduating from Mohave High school,” White said.

White was hooked on his hobby, and he eventually went for his license. FAA regulations require anyone using drones for business to be certified UAS pilots, and in December 2022, White passed the test and gained his FAA Part 107 Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) license.

“I am excited to be part of a great team at Mohave Electric Cooperative as we launch our Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program for the purpose of improving and maintaining our electrical infrastructure,” White said.

Inspections are just one thing that White and his drone are destined for. The program will also address:

  • Vegetation management: Drones can also survey vegetation near power lines and identify areas where trees or plants are growing too close to the lines and need pruning or removal to prevent outages caused by falling branches, etc.
  • Outage / Disaster response: Drones can survey storm damage to locate downed power lines or other infrastructure that may be difficult to access by ground. Knowing what infrastructure is down will allow linemen to assemble equipment to restore power prior to being onsite.
  • Asset management: Drones can create high-resolution maps of infrastructure, including power lines and substations. This can help utilities identify areas where maintenance or upgrades may be necessary and can also help with longterm planning and forecasting.
  • Media support: The drone program will support the Public Affairs department by providing photo and video materials, especially during outage situations. Drone footage can inform MEC staff and also be shared with members on outage restoration.
Drone flying over power lines
Photos by Allison Ellingson/MEC

White will work in the Information Technology department led by Chief Information Officer Heath Barker.

“I’m thrilled about implementing UAV technology at MEC as it will give us an aerial perspective of our infrastructure, facilitating early detection of potential issues,” said Barker. “With the ability to conduct top-level inspections and respond promptly to disasters, UAVs will increase efficiency and safety.”

So, if you see Jared White or MEC’s UAV, don’t be alarmed, instead wave, say hello, and know your electricity is in good hands. As a friendly reminder, it is a federal offense for shooting down unmanned aircraft and drones, which carries stiff penalties including fines and prison time up to 20 years (18 U.S. Code § 32 - Destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities).