When Tyler Coates comes to work, he sits down at his cube – the walls covered with pictures of his family – checks his email and grabs some gear before heading to his real office, the outdoors.
Coates is a Duke Energy transmission lineworker based at the Asheville, N.C., Transmission Operations Center. The company maintains 36,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines that carry electricity from power plants to substations, where the voltage is reduced to be compatible with the distribution lines in your neighborhood. Of the roughly 7,800 lineworkers at Duke Energy, about 1,100 are transmission lineworkers like Coates and his crew, which is responsible for lines in several counties in western North Carolina.
For National Lineman Appreciation Day (April 18), Coates took over Duke Energy’s Instagram to show us what their day is like.
They climb and work on the tallest poles and towers on the grid – usually somewhere between 65 and 160 feet tall. Sometimes, though, the crew scales towers more than 300 feet tall, like this one over the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, N.C.
Those days are the best.
“You get to go home,” Coates said, “feeling like you accomplished something.”
The height doesn’t bother him – before he became a Duke Energy lineworker, he worked on a tree crew for a smaller energy company. The sway of the trees got him used to the wobbling of a wooden power pole as he climbs. When Coates finished his business degree and couldn’t see himself behind a desk, his uncle, who’s also a lineworker, encouraged him to consider linework.
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Every day is different in this job, but the day of the Instagram takeover, they replaced two 65-foot-tall wooden poles in Swannanoa, N.C., with steel. The steel poles will be able to withstand harsh storms, last longer and require less maintenance. Every three years, the poles in their area are surveyed, and the ones with the most wear are replaced with steel.
Because his crew frequently works in the mountains, it can be challenging to get bucket trucks and equipment to the pole, so, Coates said, they climb a lot. Coates, who’s from nearby Mars Hill, played baseball in college, and even though it seems athleticism might be a job requirement, he said the more important lesson he learned playing baseball was how to be part of a team.
It takes a team of eight to hoist the steel pole off the ground, set it straight and fasten it to the old pole so two workers can climb up and move the energized power lines from the old pole to the new.
Once that’s complete, one of the workers uses the chainsaw hanging on his hip to saw off sections of the wooden pole from the top as they work their way down the pole. With hazards like heavy equipment, falling debris and high-voltage lines, Coates said, it’s important to not only like your team but to trust them to take care of each other.
Whether they are working away from home during hurricane restoration or strengthening the grid in the mountains, Coates said every job boils down to the same objective: solving problems and helping the customer.
He loves the challenge of being a transmission lineworker, and the best part? He doesn’t have to sit at a desk.