NLI Fleet Helps Power Your Life

Northern Lights lineworkers use a fleet of 135 vehicles and equipment to keep the lights on for members. Photo by Kristin Mettke

Northern Lights Inc. (NLI) lineworkers are fundamental to keeping the power on and building and maintaining a reliable electric system for members. To do that, NLI lineworkers use a fleet of 135 vehicles and equipment.

The fleet includes pickups, SUVs, bucket trucks, digger derricks, equipment trucks, a mechanic field repair truck, cable plows, side-by-side utility terrain vehicles, snowcats, mini excavators, forklifts, and even a boat. We also have many trailers—48 currently—to haul equipment and materials.

We need to be able to access our electric system year-round and in a variety of conditions. The vehicles and equipment we have allow for that.

NLI provides power to several mountaintop communication sites, Schweitzer, and other remote areas prone to deep snow. In the winter, lineworkers may use a tracked side-by-side UTV or snowcat to get as close as possible to the job site. Without this specialized equipment, repairs for outages would be extremely long.

You may wonder about the boat. NLI has some sections of line in the Priest Lake area only accessible by boat, sections of submerged line, and some sections that are much quicker to access by boat.

Most jobs require lineworkers to use multiple pieces of equipment. To replace a pole, crews often use a digger derrick, mini-excavator, foreman truck, and two bucket trucks. Depending on the job location and complexity, additional equipment could be needed.

NLI employs 26 lineworkers/apprentices. They typically are broken into six to seven crews working at different locations.

Maintaining the fleet requires a lot of work. NLI has three full-time mechanics tasked with keeping equipment running and functional. The mechanics are well trained to handle the many types, brands, and pieces of equipment and vehicles.

NLI mechanics are experienced working with hydraulic equipment, booms, diesel equipment, welding, electrical, body work, and much more. Many repairs are done at our mechanic shop in Sagle.

Lineworkers work all hours of the day when there are outages. They need to be able to keep working to restore power for our members or finish the job they are working on. The mechanics respond to on-the-job or roadside breakdowns all hours of the day. Like lineworkers, they are essential to keeping everything running smoothly at NLI.

Many trucks have more than 250,000 miles on them and many hours of use. The chemicals for keeping our roads safe in the winter are hard on the trucks given the miles covered and the amount of time they spend on the road.

Each year, NLI budgets for replacement vehicles and equipment. This must be well thought out as many larger or specialized pieces of equipment can take up to two and a half years to get after ordering.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.