Outside line contractors have been an important part of the electrical industry and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) since the beginning. In fact, they were the beginning!

Now, the line industry is poised to lead another revolution in how we make, move and use energy. It’s not just about the urgent necessity to repair and expand the electrical grid. The line industry also will take a leading role in making the grid more productive and cost-effective—in effect, smarter. In addition, line contractors are on the front line in harnessing the power of renewable-energy sources.

NECA is working hard to ensure line contractors can meet these challenges, and that includes expanding our diligent efforts to recruit and train their future work force. I’d like to update you on some other NECA activities focused on the line industry.

Veteran ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR readers have already heard a lot about the Electrical Transmission & Distribution (ET&D) Partnership established on Aug. 20, 2004, among the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); NECA; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) labor organization; the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents utilities; and six of the nation’s largest line contractors, who together employ about 80 percent of all T&D workers in the United States. The group’s charter, which was originally set to last only two years, has been repeatedly extended, and its membership has expanded.

ET&D has identified the most prevalent and severe hazards in line work, which have been incorporated into specialized training delivered to thousands of line workers and to apprentices enrolled in NECA-IBEW programs. The partnership has also developed recommended best practices on several high-voltage safety topics, and every employee working for a partner company is required to follow them. The partners have created a Web site—www.powerlinesafety.org—containing the best practices and other information.

Now, the partners are intensifying their working relationship with OSHA. NECA, in particular, is stepping up efforts to guide the agency in developing more and better electrical safety technical and training materials. ET&D also is looking into ways to reach a broader audience through online training while continuing to create additional training resources.

Meanwhile, NECA has established a deeper relationship with EEI to more closely align electrical contractor- and utility-safety programs. NECA supported the utility association in unveiling its new Contractor Safety Model Program earlier this month. EEI has agreed to provide a presentation on this program at NECA 2010 Boston as NECA continues to sponsor more programs geared toward the line industry.

This commitment extends to the research organization NECA founded. The Transmission & Distribution Enterprise was set up within the ELECTRI International Research Center this spring. It addresses issues important to transmission and distribution companies. These include safety best practices, new technologies and how they impact training and skill requirements, supervisory education, product innovation, business development, attracting and retaining quality line employees, and making the best use of capital.

In a previous column, I reported that NECA has been asked to chair the National Fire Protection Association’s Smart Grid Task Group made up of the key organizations involved with and responsible for building and standardizing a more efficient national electric grid and that NECA Executive Director for Standards & Safety Michael Johnston is serving as the task group chair. It’s off to a good start, with the participants’ first meeting (through a conference call last month) centering on identifying coordination issues affecting utilities, service providers, customers, standards developers and manufacturers.

Note that the coming of the smart grid will require outside and inside electrical contractors to work together more closely, too. Contractors on both sides of the service entrance will have to coordinate the installations of instruments, sensors, information technology and signaling equipment that tie the system together. So, a major objective of the task group is preventing code and protocol conflicts before they start.

One more recent development of note: Just a few weeks ago, NECA and the IBEW ratified the National Outside Construction Emergency Response Agreement. It will enable line contractors to more quickly, efficiently and effectively respond whenever a utility, municipality or rural electric cooperative needs help a with an emergency in its service area, such as a hurricane, ice storm or other disaster.

As you can see, NECA supports and promotes the line industry whether concerning day-to-day needs or grand and lofty initiatives. It’s because NECA realizes that not only were line contractors the beginning of our industry and association, they also are a vastly important part of our future. More power to them!