Randolph Electric Membership Corporation recently donated $10,000 to Montgomery Community College in support of their NC Public Safety Drone Academy. These funds will be used to purchase software and develop an educational course for REMC’s Utility Based Drone Program.

Drone technology has the potential to improve reliability while trimming costs for the electric utility industry in a myriad of ways. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can be used to conduct efficient and safe electric infrastructure inspections, detect problems with electric equipment, access equipment in difficult terrain, and provide direct support for electric utility vegetation management.

MCC’s NC Public Safety Drone Academy currently prepares emergency service personnel to become effective and well-educated UAV pilots. The academy’s focus on the laws and regulations of UAVs and extensive hands-on flight school will be the cornerstone of the utility-based drone program that Randolph EMC plans to establish with the college for future training.

While drones have the potential to reduce operating costs, utilities face a significant number of considerations to ensure they have safe and compliant operations that also achieve desired operational and cost benefits.

“With the college’s close proximity to our headquarters in Asheboro, having the opportunity to partner with MCC in this capacity is extremely beneficial,” said Dennis Mabe, vice president of engineering and operations for Randolph EMC. “The imaging software being purchased with our donated funds will benefit public safety officials while Randolph EMC evaluates the ways the co-op can utilize its capabilities, as well.”

In addition to software, Randolph EMC line technicians will participate in the drone training to obtain their certification in flying a UAV. Randolph EMC has nearly 600 miles of power lines in Montgomery County, many of them located in the Uwharrie National Forest.

“Our hope is to establish a protocol that can be used to safely navigate around and inspect power lines—especially in difficult terrain—while identifying conditions that have the potential to cause an outage or damage equipment,” Mabe added. 

“As a local cooperative owned by the members we serve, Randolph EMC truly values the relationship we have with Montgomery Community College,” said Dale Lambert, REMC’s CEO. “We are excited about this collaboration and are looking forward to creating a program that could have the potential to be replicated across the nation.”