Seattle City (spot)Light: Kevin Lidtka

Kevin Lidtka is a Laser Scanning Technician in City Light’s Power Production division, a title that might make it sound like he works on office equipment. That perception couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Kevin is in a one-of-kind position at the City of Seattle; he uses lasers to produce 3D images of physical environments.

Kevin got his start in laser scanning by working as a land surveyor at a private engineering firm for eight years before joining the City. He’s been at City Light for four years now, and in that time he’s put his laser to use on many projects.

In this week’s Seattle City (spot)Light, Kevin tells us how he got into laser scanning and exactly how it works.


Laser Scanning Technician Kevin Lidtka

“I got into surveying because it was outdoors and it seemed like an exciting thing to do; it’s not a cookie-cutter job. I was working as a surveyor out the field when I saw my first laser scanner, and thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Today I map City Light’s assets with a 3D laser scanner, which is a survey tool that accurately maps everything its sees within a thousand feet.”

“The scanner sits on a tripod because it is a big heavy piece of equipment. It’s like a camera, I suppose… And calling it a 3D camera is the easiest way to explain it. I really enjoy photography and art, and the same eye for composition that you need for photography is what’s needed for laser scanning. Everything you can see, it sees,” said Kevin.

“The scanner shoots a laser beam out and spins it around with a mirror. It’s just a single line, but that line maps every surface that it touches with a single point. Those points create a 3D point cloud.”

“Once it’s done scanning, I drop the point cloud into a computer program where you can look at it. You can view the scan in 3D and spin it all around, zoom in and out and examine things all the way down to one millimeter. This is useful in all sorts of ways.”

“For example, I’ve been going to Boundary Dam for four years now. Over time, I’ve built a point cloud of all the facilities there. Since it has about a millimeter accuracy, we know the exact dimensions of every space. If they want to add a building, they know what to avoid. If they need to move equipment, they know their clearances. It’s perfect for any task which calls for the knowledge of what fits where.”

“Here’s another example: In the last four months, I’ve set up at the exact same spot every time I visit Boundary to get a really good vantage of the face of the dam. I scan the face and then overlay that data with the last version. Over time, this will tell us how the dam expands when it’s really hot or contracts when it’s really cold. We will be able to animate the data and watch the dam ’breathe.’ That data goes to the Dam Safety group, of course.”

“It takes someone willing to think outside of the box to jump onboard with laser scanning. It’s a powerful tool, and City Light has given me the platform to produce some amazing things. Laser scanning is starting to become well-known, and I imagine in the future it is going to be in even greater demand.”
If you want to find out more about Kevin Lidtka or laser scanning, read Kevin’s posts at xyHt magazine or visit his YouTube channel to see animated scans.

Boundary Cliff Inspection Tests Skills

Jeff Young, David Fairburn and Jared Campbell start to rapell down the rock face.

This Aug. 7, City Light inspected the rock face above the Boundary project’s transformer bays, to ensure that rocks and vegetation pose no major risks to the 240 kilovolt lines that extend from the transformers to the Boundary switchyard.

The work is highly specialized, requiring workers to scale the face using ropes and harnesses. The job was accomplished with a combined team from our contractor, the Boundary Technical Rescue Team (Jeff YoungDavid Fairburn and Jared Campbell) and a structural engineer from Seattle.

The view from the top of the rock face.

Boundary Dam’s Unit 53 Generator is Back Online

Boundary Dam’s electrical generating unit 53 is back up and running for the peak generation season on the Pend Oreille River. The generator was repaired in half the time it typically takes for this type of project and $1 million under budget.

Unit 53 returned to service in the Boundary Dam powerhouse in time for the Pend Oreille River’s highest flows of the year.

On April 27, 2013, the generator experienced a severe electrical short disabling the unit right before peak generation, causing an estimated $6 million to $7 million loss in surplus power sales between April and July of 2013. Industry experts determined the unit needed a full replacement of the electrical windings in the generator core; this type of work is known as rewinding. Unit 53 was last rewound in 1982 and was scheduled for maintenance in 2017.

To uphold a commitment to serve City Light customers with low-cost, reliable power, crews, engineers and project managers prepared an emergency contract and work plan approved by General Manager and CEO Jorge Carrasco to bring Unit 53 back to service in time for the 2014 snowpack runoff.

Repair costs were estimated at $18 million and were paid from City Light’s capital improvement projects budget, having no effect on ratepayers.

Such projects typically take two years to complete. The dedicated project team worked diligently and strategically to complete overhaul Unit 53 in less than 12 months and $1 million under budget.

“The project is an example of how a completely focused team, with exceptional project management, can come together and rebuild a machine in half the time we would typically take,” Carrasco said.

Boundary Dam

Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to about 750,000 Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.

River Conditions Improve, Lift City Light’s Financial Forecasts

Improved water conditions in the rivers that power Seattle city Light’s hydroelectric dams are brightening the utility’s financial forecasts and helping to hold down costs for customers.

“While energy markets and hydroelectric power generation can be volatile, these improved conditions should avoid any rate surcharges for our customers for the foreseeable future,” General MAnager and CEO Jorge Carrasco said. 

The latest federal river flow models project more water being available for City Light’s Boundary and Skagit hydroelectric projects as well as the Bonneville Power Administration dams where City Light gets a slice of the output. More water means more electricity the utility can sell. Even with already low electricity prices dropping a bit recently, the increased power supply should mean more revenue for City Light.

The bottom line is a $2.7 million boost for City Light compared to June forecasts.

City Light now expects to earn $89.4 million from sales of electricity to other utilities, exceeding the amount called for in its 2014 budget. That is a significant change from January, when poor snowpack conditions suggested that City Light might not meet its budgeted revenue, which could have triggered surcharges on our customer-owners.

As a result of the improved conditions, City Light expects to avoid any rate surcharges through October 2017, which is as far as the utility’s forecasts project. Those forecasts are based on average water years in the future.

“To further reduce the risk of customer surcharges, our recently updated Strategic Plan steadily reduces the amount of money we depend on in our budget from sales of electricity to other utilities,” Carrasco said. “The goal is to continue providing low, predictable energy costs for our customers.”

Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to about 750,000 Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.