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Florida Power replacing 400 miles of shield lines

Diane Swift looked out her window Sunday and saw a helicopter hovering by her house. Under the helicopter, perched on a platform, a technician in a helmet appeared to be dismantling a power line.

"I wondered what were they doing," she said, standing inside her door, holding it half open.

"What are they doing?"

What Florida Power is doing is replacing 400 miles of cable on electrical towers across Florida, said company spokeswoman Karen Raihill. The repairs will not energize any lines that are now inactive, she said.

The lines being replaced do not carry electricity. Located at the top of the massive towers, the lines act as lightning rods, protecting the live wires below from nature's powerful strikes.

Three helicopters and crews on the ground will work in Lutz and Tampa Palms today and Wednesday. Then, they will work their way east to the city of Kathleen near Lakeland in Polk County, said Johnny Stewart, a worker with Kohler Construction Co. in St. Petersburg, which is replacing the wires for Florida Power. The entire 400-mile project, begun in December, should finish in May.

On Monday and Sunday, Kohler replaced a four-mile stretch of cable from Racetrack Road in Oldsmar to Hutchinson Road in Odessa.

The work resembles aerial knitting. As a helicopter hovers near the top of a high-voltage transmission tower, a technician seated on a platform below the helicopter hooks a pulley onto the steel. The end of the new cable is fed over the pulley, Stewart explained, then onto the next tower.

After stringing the cable through several towers, crews on the ground use a large power winch to wind it up, unwinding the cable from another spool miles away and drawing it along through the pulleys.

The helicopters then return to the tower tops, where the suspended technicians permanently attach the new lines, and remove the pulleys for use on the next stretch of towers.

The new lines carry fiber optic cables in their cores that allow Florida Power more control over the flow of electricity, Raihill said.

The new cable will not change the voltage of electricity transmitted through the Higgins-Griffins line, which runs across north Hillsborough from Lake Tarpon in Pinellas to Polk County.

The company activated the 115,000-volt line, which had been inoperative since 1984, last July. Neighborhood groups sued Florida Power to stop the reactivation, arguing unsuccessfully that power lines pose health risks.