DALLAS — Electricity distributors are using helicopters to wash down dust-laden equipment along thousands of miles of power lines as a record Texas drought strains efforts to keep the lights on during a summer heat wave.
Airborne minerals, dust and other pollutants are collecting on power lines and forming deposits that can short-circuit electricity flow and even spark fires. It's a problem particularly in the salty humidity of the Gulf Coast, home to the largest concentration of refinery and chemical plants in the U.S.
Because of the drought, there's been little of the rain that washes the equipment clean in a normal year.
For the first time, power companies are resorting to using helicopters to hover over power lines and transmission towers so workers can spray demineralized water on insulators, the stacks of ceramic disks on which the lines are strung. In May, CenterPoint began using two helicopters and seven ground-based crews equipped with high-pressure water hoses to systematically wash the insulators — 29,800 have been cleaned so far in southeast Texas, he said.
At some substations, workers are sand-blasting the equipment with a dry mixture of crushed corn cobs, a material that won't interfere with electrical transmission. The washings have cost CenterPoint as much as $2 million so far this summer, Leticia Lowe, a spokeswoman, said.