Energizing Your Future

Blog | ATC - Part 2

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College students tour Cardinal-Hickory Creek project

Students pursuing STEM education program talk with ATC, M.J. Electric and Electric TV 

Under an azure sky in the early morning of Feb. 28, a steady stream of cars filed into the Hill Valley Substation access road near Montfort, Wis. Nearly 40 students from Southwest Wisconsin Technical College parked across a span of frosty, wooden mats and emerged from their cars to huddle around ATC senior construction manager, Zac Eide, for the day’s safety brief. 

Students and staff from the school, ATC representatives, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association shuffled their way down the still-frozen mud to get a firsthand look at one of the largest substations under construction in ATC’s footprint. It was the first of five stops along the route for the students to see the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project – a nearly complete, 102-mile, 345,000-volt transmission line that stretches from western Dane County, Wisconsin, to Dubuque County, Iowa.  

Throughout the tour, there was no shortage of questions. 

“How much oil can the transformer hold?” one student asked.  

“What are the corona rings for?” asked another.  

“What’s the size of this pier foundation?”  

“How much does a substation like this even cost?” 

“Why is the conductor woven together like that?” 

“All great questions,” remarked Eide, who fielded the inquiries. 

The SWTC students are enrolled in the school’s Electric Power Distribution program. While the focus is on electric distribution, it’s often a first step that many students take before enrolling in an apprenticeship. EDP is a 9-month science, technology, engineering and math program that includes an added bonus: earning a commercial driver’s license upon completion. 

ATC alliance contractors, M.J. Electric and MP Systems, have given many SWTC students an apprenticeship in the past, which sometimes leads to that individual working on ATC property. 

IBEW 953 organizer and SWTC liaison, Nick Webber, had contacted ATC in fall 2022 to request the tour. He followed the group with a bright smile, knowing that the students were gaining unique insight into construction techniques from ATC’s contractor for the project, M.J. Electric.  

The tour was documented by Electric TV, a Colorado-based film crew representing the IBEW and NECA. Their joint program features an online broadcast of electrical union laborers working on complex infrastructure projects throughout the country. The online segment is scheduled to be live in March 2023.  

Following the full rotation around the substation components and control house, the group traveled to see the new transmission line construction in portions of Iowa and Dane counties. Across the various stops throughout the morning, students had the opportunity to watch the M.J. Electric crews drilling, framing, setting and doing wire work. 

“Just to see what they’re doing in the substations and the transmission lines…it’s a really big deal,” said SWTC student, Connor Murray. “Seeing it firsthand really helps put everything all together that you learn in school and it’s really good exposure to what we’re going to be doing when we get out of school.” 

Fellow student Kevin Jones offered, “I had a previous career in law enforcement corrections, and I wanted a change. Being a student at Southwest Tech and being part of the tour, you get the opportunity to see what the crews are doing up close and personal. We can read about it and see videos but being here and getting a walk-through step by step, it really opens your eyes. It’s kind of neat to see the guys working and know we’ll have a chance to do what they’re doing.” 

The tour concluded back at the Hill Valley Substation at midday. By then, the sun had melted the frosty mats and the frozen walkways gave way to softer grounds.  

“This was a good day,” said Eide. “Given the engagement and all their interest, hosting these students from SWTC on our Cardinal-Hickory Creek project was an important investment, and time well spent. The students got the opportunity to learn, and we got an opportunity to shape their futures.”  

Aerial saw trims trees from above

At American Transmission Co., our job is to operate our transmission system safely and reliably, and we take that responsibility seriously. An important part of that involves managing the vegetation around our transmission facilities to prevent outages. With more than 10,000 miles of transmission lines, that’s no small job.

One unique approach we take is to get help from above – help from a helicopter, that is. We use a light utility helicopter equipped with a heavy-duty aerial saw to trim the vegetation near some of our lines. Rotary saw blades are suspended on a 90- to 100-foot vertical boom that is attached to the helicopter.

The helicopter/aerial saw combination is particularly effective in areas where difficult terrain and wetlands make it challenging for ground crews to access the transmission line corridor. Aerial saw work is also highly efficient when compared to the work of ground-based crews.

“It takes just a few hours for an aerial saw to complete what typically takes ground crews several days to accomplish,” said Dan Horton, ATC senior vegetation management specialist. “However, the aerial work is weather-dependent so the duration of the work could fluctuate.”

Next week an air-saw equipped helicopter crew is trimming vegetation along lines in six Wisconsin counties—Brown, Calumet, Marathon, Outagamie, Portage and Wood counties.

In the interest of safety, if you see a helicopter/aerial saw in the area, please stay at least 300 feet away from the work area and refrain from stopping, viewing and photographing the work from a roadway.

Want to know more? Check out our YouTube channel for video footage of similar aerial saw vegetation management work.

ATC uses drone to install bird diverters for the first time

We care about the environment, particularly in areas where our facilities are in close proximity to known avian flyways. That’s why this week, an ATC contractor will install over 450 bird diverters on the wires of three high-voltage electric transmission lines in three Wisconsin counties – Marinette, Ozaukee and Winnebago counties.

Using a fully autonomous LineFly™ robot connected to a heavy lifting drone, Canadian-based FulcrumAir will install the bird flight diverters to help keep birds safe while also ensuring the reliability of the electric grid.

“Bird flight diverters increase visibility of the wires and help protect birds from contacting the power lines while in flight,” said Michael Warwick, ATC senior environmental project manager and avian protection program specialist. “Most of the diverters will be installed over or adjacent to wetlands and bodies of water. These devices provide a visual deterrent to help protect larger, heavy-bodied species that do not maneuver easily – such as geese, swans, pelicans, cranes and other waterfowl.”

This is the first time ATC is using a drone to install bird flight diverters. In the past, ATC has installed bird diverters using a light-duty helicopter. Using a drone helps to increase safety and reduce installation costs.

The bird flight diverters will be installed in the following locations:

  • Marinette County along a portion of a 138,000-volt line across the Peshtigo River near the Peshtigo River Train Bridge
  • Ozaukee County along a portion of a 345,000-volt line within the Mequon Nature Center
  • Winnebago County along a portion of a 138,000-volt line near South Asylum Bay along Bowen Street

 Drone flight schedules may vary and are subject to change, based on weather. In the interest of safety, if you see the drone and robot in the area, please stay at least 300 feet away from the work area and refrain from stopping, viewing and photographing the work from a roadway.

Employees engage young learners at Woodland STEM Night

ATC employees recently participated in the Woodland Elementary STEM Night in Kingsford, Mich. About 300 kindergarten through fourth grade students and 500 parents attended the event. ATC was one of 16 local businesses to participate.

Models and materials table

ATC employees offered various models of transmission line structures, samples of conductor material, an insulator and a bird diverter for students to interact with and learn about. The kids loved looking at the different types of t-line structures including the lattice tower, steel monopole, wood H-frame and a Lego tower. We asked students if they knew what the structures were for, and many students knew that they were for electricity, and some even knew the difference between conductors and insulators. They were surprised at how big the conductors were!

Forestry activity table

The kids also participated in a fun, educational activity where they got to learn about tree anatomy. Our employees used wood cookies (cross sections of small trees two to three inches in diameter) with one side painted white and a small hole drilled for twine to tie a loop for the kids to hang their art. The students got to decorate the painted side as a snowman. On the unpainted side, the kids learned to age their snowman art by counting the tree rings. There were a handful of students that already knew how to age a tree, but most did not, and all enjoyed figuring out how old their snowman was. One student made it a challenge to find the oldest tree cookie snowman, which was 23 years old.

Additionally, we displayed a couple of cross sections from a larger oak tree that died from oak wilt in 2020. The tree was 70 years old. The cross sections displayed a timeline of major US history events that happened during that tree’s life, beginning in 1950.

While looking at the cross sections, one employee, who is a vegetation management specialist, had conversations with children and parents about what can be learned from trees such as atmospheric conditions from hundreds to thousands of years ago. Our employee explained that cross sections can also tell us when a tree is having difficulty growing due to conditions such as drought, flooding, fire and disease based on how large or small each annual growth ring was. The employee also described how trees move water and nutrients up and down the tree, as well as across the tree via medullary rays. We used these conversations with kids and parents to talk about the importance of having the right tree in the right place, and why ATC needs to manage vegetation on our rights-of-way for safety and electric reliability.

Essentially, the event was filled with electric transmission education disguised as fun activities – a great way for kids to learn about what we do at ATC!

Is it a conductor or an insulator?

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Panthers mascot, Pounce, poses with school children who are playing a spin-the-wheel game

Students greet the Panthers mascot, Pounce, as they line up to spin the ATC “Conductor or insulator?” wheel.

As a presenting sponsor of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Panthers women’s basketball with our Steals for STEM program, ATC engaged in a fun STEM activity with elementary and middle schoolers at UWM’s ‘School Day’ game at the university’s Klotsche Center on Friday, Jan. 20.

Before the game, ATC employees invited children to play the “Conductor or insulator?” spin-the-wheel game. Presented with options like “steel paper clip” or “glass bottle,” students pondered their answers carefully, smiled and cheered when they answered correctly. Our employees explained how electricity flows more readily within conductors than insulators and provided a few actual pieces of electric transmission conductors and insulators for the kids to pick up for a real hands-on experience.

The enthusiastic crowd of 1,500 students and teachers from nine different Milwaukee schools later cheered the Panthers on as they secured a 72-60 win against Robert Morris University’s Colonials.