It’s a network that is subject to intense and severe storms that can splinter and even destroy power poles and turn powerlines into a tangled mess, interrupting power to hundreds or thousands of customers over large distances.

The majority of our customer base is coastal, but many live in the hinterland, western and even remote communities serviced by local depots and crews.

Here, the network is typically SWER (Single Wire Earth Return) lines that run for hundreds of kilometres across harsh landscapes.

And after a storm and power interruptions, that’s where aerial patrols come into their own, to quickly identify network damage so crews can restore power as soon as possible.

Longreach based Electrical Fitter Mechanic/Linesman Ashley Schultz has shared some fascinating insights into how chopper patrols are carried out to check for network faults in the wake of severe storms in central Queensland in March 2017.

Picture of a helicopter used for aerial patrols of Ergon's networkAshley took this stunning photo (left and above) with a rainbow in the background while carrying out aerial line patrols near Aramac after storms took out power to 500 customers over a vast area, from Muttaburra to Barcaldine, a distance of 150km.

“Whenever there is a big storm we do line patrols by chopper. It’s really the best way to check the lines. We look for any signs of faults and vegetation over lines. We have to stop fairly regularly to fill up. We take jerry cans of fuel and have fuel based at various drop zones around the area,” he said.

“On this occasion the storm rolled through in the middle of the day. Eleven SWER lines were affected. An outage of that size is quite big for us.”

“SWER lines range in size out here, for example, the Isisford Stage two SWER stretches on for about 300km and features 1100 poles, supplying power to about 60 customers. Another SWER has 14 customers, while others might have between 40 or 50 customers.”

“The feeder tripped off from Barcaldine due to a fault from the severe storm. My team member and I were helping the Barcaldine depot,” Ashley said.

“Barcaldine had a crew on the ground and we communicated through our Operational Control Centre to sectionalise the fault,” he said.

“The R44 chopper has enough room for the pilot and a spotter/offsider, plus tools in the back. On this occasion we were not able to see the fault from the air, and as we were running out of daylight, had to return to Longreach,” he said.

“In the end it turned out to be caused by a faulty SWER isolator, which was difficult to identify from the air.”

By late afternoon power was restored to Aramac and the Lakes and a section of line with various SWER isolators was sectioned. Barcaldine crews worked through the night to restore power to as many people as possible.

“It was good to see a great team effort and depots working together to achieve a goal,” Ashley said.