Jones-Onslow EMC: Lessons Learned on the Journey To Improve Reliability and Safety


From beaches around Sneads Ferry to remote inland farms and flatlands around Jacksonville, Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Cooperative (JOEMC) delivers power to roughly 86,000 members in North Carolina.

And that means mitigating and maintaining vegetation around almost 2,000 miles of overhead distribution lines.

With 16+ years’ experience first as a trimmer and then as crew foreman, Clayton Jones was eager to get a full picture of vegetation around utility power lines when he took the post of supervisor of vegetation management at JOEMC.

Jones discussed the decision to tap satellite technology to help the co-op manage vegetation efficiently when he joined former Entergy VP of Distribution Services and host Gary Huntly for a recent episode of State of Vegetation Management.

Watch a recording of the live event now or read on for 3 key takeaways.

Takeaway 1: With no end in sight for growth, technology is a must.

With beaches and riverways a part of the JOEMC’s areas of service and the location of a military base nearby, it’s no surprise that the region is growing. But it’s the pace of that growth that challenges the utility.

“We’re putting in new services at staggering rates annually,” says Jones. “It only seems to be gaining traction.”

He explains that traditionally, JOEMC would use in-house teams to mitigate vegetation issues and, time-permitting, outage follow-up, while contractors were tasked with the cycle trims. Contractors were simply expected to get as far as they could get today and pick up where they left off tomorrow.

“I think we’re beginning to realize that is an outdated approach to trying to properly and efficiently manage vegetation on our system,” Jones said.

So JOEMC made the shift to new technology. Specifically, satellite imagery and AI.

“That technology has definitely given me confidence, knowing that I can essentially look at our entire system right here in my office. … I can use that technology to essentially guide our crews and our contract crews to mitigate the vegetation [around] our system efficiently, and make sure they’re working on the right areas at the right time.“

Takeaway 2: Ensure that workflow is on track with a detailed satellite view.

With new satellite and AI technology in place, JOEMC now looks at full circuit-level information to create work plans, which helps them to determine:

  • What circuits need to be trimmed in the next year and beyond.
  • The number of line miles to be addressed.
  • Size of workload.

“That’ll help give us an idea on what we’re looking at as far as the cycle trim for the next year, and we have the ability to take that data and even break it down to more of a segmented level,” says Jones.

JOEMC can not only look at a circuit that has been flagged by the system as needing a trim, but also drill down to assess it on the smaller segment level. That focused view might indicate just a few areas that rank as a high growing risk or high total risk.

Jones explains, “That may be something that we shift over to our time and materials (T&M) rate crews for them to mitigate. So, essentially, we just take the data that we are provided, and we see how we can use it to best fit the crews and resources that we have.”

Takeaway 3: Work with comprehensive vegetation data for trim and budget planning.

The goal of ensuring reliability and safety requires a thorough understanding of the challenges of vegetation management throughout the network. The new satellite and AI solution is providing the big picture view and insights JOEMC needs to make work planning more efficient and precise.

“We have a better understanding — more so than we’ve ever had,” Jones says.

The new technology has allowed the company to get answers to questions that help them reevaluate their vegetation management practices:

  • What is the best practice for mitigating what issues the system is showing?
  • Is the bid package going to get the best process for what we are up against for that year?
  • Should unit-based pricing continue?
  • How many miles of lines or how much vegetation can be managed within our budget?

With this new technology, JOEMC can determine where vegetation needs attention — specifically, which line miles need to be maintained in the coming year, and which can wait. That’s valuable input for both the planning and budgeting processes.

“If we can get a bid on a cost per mile, per se, we can kind of gauge up based on our budget how many miles line we should be able to get maintained and if it meets the demand,” Jones explains.

What if the planned work needed for the year overruns the budget?

Says Jones, “Then we now have some more information for the higher ups.”

The vice president can take the numbers to the CEO and board members. With the information gathered and analysis provided by the new satellite and AI solution, the decision-makers can have a discussion based on data and numbers specific to their system and the work ahead.

To learn more about Jones-Onslow’s lessons learned on their journey to improve reliability and safety, watch the video here.

Or get more information about AiDash Intelligent Vegetation Management System here.