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Drones, Robotic ‘Bird Diverters’ Protect N.J. Power Infrastructure

Drones are playing an integral part in keeping birds away from dangerous power lines by placing robotic bird diverters on the lines. Some 1,500 new bird diverters have been launched to protect Atlantic City Electric infrastructure.

(TNS) — If you’ve been looking up into the South Jersey skies over the past week, you may have seen them.

Little robots, attached to flying drones, that have been busy hovering around power lines. It turns out their work is aimed at saving the lives of fellow aviators.

The devices, equipped with reflective and glow-in-the-dark tape, are actually bird diverters, used to make power lines more visible to coastal wildlife and reduce bird electrocution and collisions.

In partnership with FulcrumAir, a developer of robotic solutions for the power line industry, last month, Atlantic City Electric launched its pilot drone program. As of Thursday, the company has placed upgraded bird diverters on five lines in high-risk bird collision areas.

That’s more than 1,500 new bird diverters that have been installed in the company’s service area using drone technology.

Migratory and endangered birds often use power line poles as perches and when areas have few natural nest sites, Coastal nesting birds will also settle on poles or towers. This combined with an area’s vegetation and geographical features increases the chance of bird power line collisions or electrocution.

As a result, an estimated 57 million birds are killed each year in the United States from collisions with power lines, according to FulcrumAir.

Through its Avian Protection Program, when Atlantic City Electric, a subsidiary of Exelon Corporation and Pepco Holdings Inc, becomes aware of a bird that has collided with one of the wires — which it learns either through outages or customer discoveries — it directs efforts to better protect the wildlife in that area.

“Once we do get that information one way or another, we do our best to install bird diverters to increase the visibility of the line for birds,” said Cristina Frank, principal environmental program manager at Pepco Holdings Inc.

“Ideally, the birds will see the diverters and be able to correct their flight before making contact so that they avoid colliding into the wires,” she continued.

A goal of the avian protection program is to make sure that bird diverters are placed in all critical locations where birds have been injured or killed from colliding with the thin power lines that are difficult for wildlife to see, said Frank, who also manages the program.

“You’ve got habitat loss, and you’ve got sea level rise and things like that, birds are already facing struggles,” said Devin Griffiths, spokesperson for Stone Harbor’s Wetland Institute. “If we can reduce an impact that damages their population using bird diverters that’s a positive thing.”

On Monday, Stone Harbor’s Wetland Institute, a Cape May County coastal wetland conservation nonprofit, witnessed the installations of bird diverters on a Stone Harbor Boulevard powerline, according to Griffiths.

Here’s how it works. FulcrumAir professionals control the drone that is used to place a small robot on the power line to install the bird diverters. Both the reflective tape and glow tape allow the devices to be more effective overnight when many birds are moving to feed and migrate.

One drone and robot can install up to 12 bird diverters on each flight and 400 each day, weather permitting, according to Atlantic City Electric.

While the company has put in place bird diverters on transmission and distribution lines before, this new drone approach is safer, more efficient and will help avoid power outages for many customers, according to officials.

To explain, workers can safely control the drone from afar without getting close to the power lines. Also, normally installing diverters would need to be done by hand with a bucket truck, or helicopter for taller lines, and a power outage would need to occur.

With this drone technology, which is fairly new to the service area, a power outage isn’t needed, according to officials.

Part of Atlantic City Electric’s over 12-year-old Avian Protection Program includes other work to ensure the protection of birds that may come in contact with their equipment, the company said.

For instance, every new construction project that is planned, is reviewed by Pepco to make sure new lines are being built in a way that’s the least amount of risk for birds and other wildlife, said Frank.

As for the pilot program, be on the lookout for more flying bird diverter-carrying drones in the South Jersey area. Pepco officials said that the pilot went very well and they hope to have Fulcrum install more.

“We have installed these where we have had known bird collisions, maybe one, maybe several,” said Frank. “And once these go up, we don’t have any more impacts so it is a pretty effective solution to bird collisions.”

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.