The answer used to be landfills. But we’ve found a use for the poles that will reduce our impact on the environment by keeping tons of wooden waste out of landfills every year.
We work with a vendor that brings old poles to an industrial-waste-to-energy facility, where they are used as fuel in an environmentally responsible way to produce energy. Our wood recycling program and this agreement with our vendor reduce our cost to dispose of the poles as well. It’s a win for the environment and a win for us.
In 2019 alone, we recycled more than 7,000 tons of wood through this program. That’s just one part of our ongoing efforts to operate efficiently and provide service that is safe, reliable and a good value.
As we install new poles, we’re pleased to have found a better solution for the old ones.
You’ve heard about PPL Electric Utilities using drones to patrol power lines. Here’s the story of an employee who uses drones to win prizes.
Customer Experience Specialist Susie Smith recently competed in the MultiGP International Open, a drone racing event in Muncie, Ind., that drew about 200 competitors.
If you haven’t seen drone racing on ESPN, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Pilots guide the unmanned aerial vehicles through designated courses, flying them through gates and around poles at speeds of 70 mph or more. Each drone has a camera on it, and the pilots wear goggles so they can fly using the view from the camera. (Photo at right courtesy Clint Hild.)
Smith took up drone racing about a year ago – and she’s gotten pretty good at it. She was the second-place finisher among all men and women racing the rookie track at the Muncie event, earning a trophy.
On the FAI U.S. Qualifier track, a different course, she placed third among female finishers. And on the International Open course, she was one of only two women to complete the course in the time limit. (She modestly notes: “Very few female pilots race drones.”)
Smith’s boyfriend, Tom, introduced her to drone racing, and they go to races about once a month. She likes the challenges of the sport, like memorizing courses on short notice. She also enjoys the camaraderie among participants.
“You spend the day outside in the sunshine with really cool people,” she said. “You’re making friendships, and everyone is cheering you on to get better. Even if you’re doing a race, if you have a mechanical problem, people will help you out.”
Smith notes that racers obey all regulations on drone use. For instance, racers must keep the drones within view at all times, just like the PPL employees who use drones to survey power lines. Drone racing events also include netting, barricades, fire extinguishers and other precautions to keep both competitors and racers safe.
Smith also says she’s applied human performance safety tools, which are used by our employees on the job, to her drone racing. For instance, drone chargers have five slots for different voltages of batteries – and the chargers can catch fire if you put a battery in the wrong slot. To avoid this error trap, she’s covered the charger slots she doesn’t use.
“That’s definitely something I learned at PPL,” she said.
Drone racing isn’t cheap – a drone can run several hundred dollars. But there are lower-cost ways to get introduced to the sport, like using online simulators that are good training tools, Smith said.
As for her future goals, Smith has a challenging target in sight: The fastest woman racer at next year’s Muncie meet will earn a trip to China as part of a U.S. national drone-racing team.
“I have a year to get faster,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to make it this year, but who knows what could happen next year?
“It’s really a lot of fun.”
The video below, provided by Susie Smith, is a little rough but gives you an idea of what a drone racer sees during a race.
The sight of ospreys nesting at the overlook by Wallenpaupack Dam has become something local residents have come to expect for more than 20 years.
So when the nesting platform originally put up by PPL Electric Utilities came down during a wind storm early in 2018, Meg Welker knew what had to be done.
The senior environmental professional, who has been with PPL for 22 years and has lived near the overlook for more than three decades, quickly began making arrangements for a new nesting platform.
Hours after the new platform went up in April, the ospreys were back, and Welker couldn’t be happier.
“I believe it’s our obligation to support the communities we work in because we’re truly a part of them,” Welker said. “And this is such a nice place to work.”
Welker has spent much of her career at PPL being a steward of the environment. A graduate of Penn State University with a degree in environmental resource management, she is responsible for protecting wetlands, watersheds and waterways at PPL projects that are designed to improve service and reliability to the company’s 1.4 million customers.
She has become the local contact for various state and federal agencies. She’s a board member of the Lake Wallenpaupack Watershed Management District, a nonprofit organization set up to protect the lake.
She helped lead the effort to add the osprey platform at Wallenpaupack in 1997. In the two decades since, about 40 chicks have hatched at the location. PPL has worked with the state Game Commission to build similar platforms throughout the utility’s service territory.
The platforms provide the once-threatened birds with an alternative spot to nest so they don’t have to build nests on high-voltage transmission line structures.
Welker said she’s never felt more proud of the work that PPL does, particularly its environmental efforts, which also include recycling old wooden utility poles, making use of a fleet of hybrid electric vehicles, and giving out thousands of trees to schools, community organizations and local governments.
“The investment we’re putting into our grid and what we do to get projects completed is critical to the success of our customers, our communities and our company,” she said. “And what we’re doing in the environmental realm is essential to getting that work done.
“And being able to do all of that in an environmentally responsible way … you just have to feel good going home at night.”
This tip appears in the July 2018 issue of Connect, our customer newsletter. We’re reprinting it here because it’s good safety advice.
Q. My buddy is a do-it-yourselfer and never bothers to turn off the circuit breakers when he’s working on an electrical outlet. How can I explain to him how dangerous this is?
A. Consider that a very small amount of electricity — less than 50 milliamps — can be enough to stop someone’s heart. A 15-amp circuit breaker in his house won’t trip and stop the flow of electricity until 300 times that amount, or 15,000 milliamps, is traveling through his body. Tell your friend to shut off the breaker, and test the outlet, before doing any work. It could be a life-saver.
Have a question for our energy expert? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.