ComEd has begun piloting an innovative approach to vegetation management near powerlines with the help of specialized drones.
The first deployment of drone-delivered herbicide took place on two acres of ComEd right-of-way land in Forest View, Ill. in late August. The drone deployment process took 45 minutes and 0.75 gallons of herbicide to complete which would have taken a human crew approximately two days of work and 8 gallons of herbicide solution.
A recent inspection of the area has indicated that the drone herbicide deployment was successful, enabling ComEd to further refine and deploy this program in other areas to more safely and efficiently remove or maintain vegetation overgrowth that, absent proper management, could cause power outages.
“Through the hard work of our 6,200 employees and continued, prudent investment in the grid, we’re delivering record-breaking reliability to the families and businesses we serve,” said Michelle Blaise, Senior Vice President of Technical Services at ComEd. “As a result of our team’s innovative thinking, ComEd is the first Midwest utility to utilize drones in our vegetation management program to more efficiently and more safely mitigate the threat of power outages due to plant growth or overgrowth around our power lines.”
This pilot program will help ComEd address invasive and unwanted vegetation located along its transmission powerlines and quicken the process of bringing more natural prairie to approximately 65,000 acres of ComEd right-of-way (ROW) land.
To cultivate natural prairie, any existing, non-native vegetation and its affiliated seed beds must be fully removed to prime the location for new, native seed growth. As of 2022, ComEd has successfully restored nearly 4,000 acres of ROW land into natural prairie and pollinator habitats. The two-acre site in Forest View is now in the process of being converted to natural prairie.
The test site, located in an industrial area in Forest View, was the perfect location to deploy this vegetation management approach because the area was full of tall, dense vegetation including buckthorn, box elder and mulberry plants.
Most of the vegetation in the area ranged from 8-10 feet in height. Should the vegetation have grown onto the nearby power lines, it could have caused outages or service disruptions in the area.
The drones, operated by the Davey Resource Group, are specially designed to deploy ComEd’s Environmental Protection Agency-approved herbicide mixture over the area, identified via GPS coordinates.
The devices are equipped with a 2.5-gallon tank for the herbicide solution and utilize propellers to deploy the fine mist over the targeted field, providing more consistent, controlled coverage than spraying from ground level.
This is one of the many innovative approaches ComEd’s Vegetation Management team have implemented to avoid outages and service disruptions due to overgrown vegetation near powerlines.
Since the summer of 2019, ComEd has utilized a team of goats to help clear vegetation in difficult-to-access places. Among its benefits, the program drives maximum efficiency of this work, cutting the cost and time by more than half, while also reducing safety risks for workers and air emissions from fuel-burning equipment.