Northern Ireland Electricity have opened up their first ever dedicated training facility for specialist high-voltage pylon work in Derry.
New transmission towers have now been installed at NIE’s unique Derry base to add to smaller scale wooden cable pole training equipment already on site.
This will mean engineers and contractors from across Northern Ireland will no longer have to travel to Britain for the highly specialised training and upskilling.
It will also mean a significant increase to the small pool of workers who are trained to the level needed to work on such infrastructure.
As well as NIE apprentices, the towers will also be opened up to give existing transmission engineers, graduate engineers and contractors the chance to practice working on this type of network in a safe environment.
Speaking to the Journal at their Campsie base yesterday, NIE representatives said the three new towers measure up to 12.3ms in height and represent a substantial investment for Derry.
NIE training manager Raymond McMenemey said: “This new facility at our Campsie site is to enhance the skill of our apprentices on our transmission network.
“They will end up working on that network, increasing the reliability of supply to all our customers.
“It means people will be able to practice in a safe environment so that when they are out fixing the transmission network they will have had a good level of practice. In the past we would have had to send people to the UK for training, or train people on live jobs, outages.”
Mr McMenemey said that this was later scenario was not ideal as there were time constraints for getting the lines up and running again.
Pylons in the north can measure to up to 120 feet, and can carry around 275,000 volts. One of the new training models simulates the top tier of a large scale tower, complete with ladders hanging down off the arms.
At the minute, NIE have 47 apprentices on their books, with another 10 due to be enrolled in what is a three-year training programme this September. Mr McMenemey said however that not all trainees however will go on to do specialist overhead transmission tower work.
Those who do are likely to be tasked to look after the lines during rough weather and emergency conditions, particularly during the winter when electrical infrastructure can sustain damage from ice or storms, as well as undertaking more routine maintenance and repair work.
Once they have trained on the non-live network, recruits will then be brought in to a live facility at the other side of the Campsie site where they will become skilled in areas such as carrying out repairs on overhead infrastructure while ensuring customers don’t go off supply, fitting transformers and sub-stations .
Mr McMenemey said this was a facility“where we can energise the overhead lines and cables at our network voltages and train our staff to the live scenarios, which is about keeping customers on supply when they are doing their work out there.”