Industrial Talk is onsite at PowerGen and talking to Lawrence “Larry” Kahn, Research Fellow with Tulane University Law School about “Utility vegetation management report and real solutions that leverage technology”. Here are some of the key takeaways from our conversation:
- Industrial security and vegetation management. 0:00
- Palo Alto Networks offers Zero Trust security for operational technology, simplifying management and automating threat detection.
- Larry discusses vegetation management at industrial conference in New Orleans.
- Tree removal safety and underreporting of deaths. 3:01
- Expert highlights the dangers of tree removal work, with one death per week in the US.
- Safe ship recycling and environmental regulations. 6:05
- Larry, former lawyer turned entrepreneur, aims to make ship recycling safer and more environmentally friendly.
- Company prioritized safety during hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, impressing OSHA and industry professionals.
- Utility Vegetation Management and Law School Education. 11:25
- Entrepreneur discovers lack of legal knowledge in utility vegetation management, decides to teach law school course instead.
- Professor creates institute to teach students about utility vegetation management, leading to job placement and industry recognition.
- Using satellite technology to prevent power outages. 15:16
- Larry: Tree and powerline conflicts cause 70-80% of power outages, resulting in $100-150B annual loss.
- Utilities face challenges prioritizing tree removal due to conflicting demands and limited resources.
- Arborists found 90% accuracy in satellite technology for identifying potential powerline conflicts.
- Utilizing AI for vegetation management in power lines. 22:50
- Artificial intelligence can help prevent electrocutions by detecting powerline conflicts.
- Larry Khan shares insights on vegetation management for utilities.
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LAWRENCE “LARRY” KAHN'S CONTACT INFORMATION:
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Welcome to the Industrial Talk Podcast with Scott MacKenzie. Scott is a passionate industry professional dedicated to transferring cutting edge industry focused innovations and trends while highlighting the men and women who keep the world moving. So put on your hard hat, grab your work boots, and let's go Alright,
once again, thank you very much for joining Industrial Talk. And thank you very much for your continued support of a platform that is dedicated to industrial professionals all around the world. You are bold, you are brave, you dare greatly you innovate, you collaborate, you solve problems. And that's why we celebrate you on Industrial Talk, just go out to Industrial Talk.com Find out more with about the all the leaders that exist out there in industry, and they are solving problems. We are broadcasting on site PowerGen 24. We're in New Orleans, Louisiana. And it's in fact, it's super quiet. Right now we're right on the floor. But nobody's here because the exhibition floor has not opened up. So we're really just sort of hanging out and doing this up. His name is Larry con Lawrence. If you go to his I think if you go to his stat card out on LinkedIn, he's in the hot seat, we're gonna be talking about vegetation management, let's get correct. How're you doing, Larry? Great. It's about time. Just so the listener understands. I've been very remiss in our conversation or opportunities to get together and have this great conversation I've been I've been remiss not have problems. Don't look at me. So, so for the listeners out there, and let's sort of level set on who you are, where you come from just sort of, you know, give us your your bio real quick. And then we're going to start talking about the conference and why it's important. You're here. Okay.
Great. Great. Well, thank you, Scott. My bio my background, I've I like to say that I've been switching back and forth between trees and seas my whole life. And
Sue's as an SCA. Yes.
And yeah, not not Cookie Monster. But the early in my career is working for the Army doing what would now be called land management, environmental work. It wasn't then it was just part of oversight and maintenance of a military base. But I got involved in developing a health and safety protocol for tree removal for hazard trees on the base, the base was overgrown with lots and lots of trees. They were falling on the power generation facilities at the base, and the work needed to be done. But there were no safety standards at the time in the industry. And so I used that opportunity to meet with leading tree companies and ask them, How do you do this? How do you keep your people safe? And so from there, it's
a rough sport, just telling you at managing trees, rough sport,
absolutely. It is one of the most lethal professions in the country. And then when you combine it with doing that work near high voltage power lines, it's that much more dangerous. And if you're doing it in remote areas, you've got to deal with wild animals. And you also need to deal with environmental issues as well protected species and things of that nature. So this is highly complex work. It requires dedicated and knowledgeable people to do that work properly and they are putting their lives on the line so that when we walk into a room and flick that switch, the lights come on, and it's extraordinary. But somewhere in this country, somebody dies every week, just making sure that happens. And that's terrible and scattery
See, this just blows my mind because We have been focused on health and safety for ever forever. We have the standards, we have the reporting, we have all of the requirements associated, we're still having deaths, right? It just blows me away. And we can't seem to move that needle.
Well, yeah. And one of the concerns and speaking to experts in this industry in health and safety, they believe that that number of one a week is underreported. And that might be why we're not moving the needle is because the real number is larger. And that, and that these are the reported numbers that the government receives and investigates, and it's actually a much larger number. And so as safety gets better, more of the unreported deaths are becoming reported, and they're kind of filling in the spaces. And that's why it looks like it's not getting better, when in fact, maybe it is slightly, but with under reporting, it makes it so difficult to really know. All right. All right. So that's the early part of
my I was just getting ready to go, oh, man, I'm all I'm all giddy.
So. So from there, I went to college, I went to Columbia University, I then went to law school at Tulane University and specialized in maritime environmental works. And
that's getting ready to open up so that you're welcome listener, that you get to hear what we get to hear.
So, at the end, I worked in the maritime litigation space for about 20 years in New York City. And after certain amount of time, it was appropriate for me to just simply make a switch to a different career. So I still maintain my New York license, and I'm still an attorney. But I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I want to get into dangerous industries, and try and make them safer, and and more environmentally sensitive. And so I looked at where I thought I can make the greatest impact using my knowledge and my experience, and I turned to ship recycling. That is the process of taking big giant commercial ships, some of them the size of the Chrysler Building in New York, and cutting them down into three by five pieces of metal and doing all the environmental hazard remediation and all of that,
oh, I've seen videos of that. It's horrifying,
on average, on average, not at our facility. But on average, there are two to three deaths 50 to 60s, serious injuries, several maimings at every yard every day. And it's a killing field, and the environmental nightmare that comes from just the open release of all kinds of hazmat, it's absolutely horrible. And I thought there had to be a better way. And in fact, there was. And so we opened a ship recycling facility in Puerto Rico, was the idea that we would be abiding by us environmental laws, US health and safety laws, US labor laws, and we could do it there and still make a profit. And we proved that we could. And with that, we started doing more and more work becoming better known. We were the very first facility outside of Europe, to qualify under Europe's ship recycling regulations, which are the strictest in the world. And prior to us, the first round were 18, European ship recycling facilities, all of which were relatively small, but still, because they were operating in Europe under European law. The presumption was they were doing it legally. And so they didn't have to go through any sort of process to qualify. We were the very first company to actually go through that process, and qualify, and we did it on the first round per shot, not a problem. And I were processes were approved to recycle European owned, managed and flagships. And that was fantastic, proving again, that by doing it the right way, and still being profitable. This was a good business. And it's subject to the vicissitudes of the scrap market. You know, as steel rises, yeah, oil rises and falls and things like that. Those things will move how profitable you are. But we did this work extraordinarily safely. And then hurricane Maria came along and basically wiped out Puerto Rico. There was enormous devastation. The, you know, the island was without power, everywhere, no telecommunications, anywhere. Roads and bridges were washed out. I mean, it just really complete disaster. But we had a hurricane preparedness plan in place. And we followed it, and it worked. And within a few days, we had people back to work lights on music playing machines moving around and people back at work. There was still no telecommunications on the island. There's still no electricity but There we were producing Yeah, because we did the right thing all along. And coastguard eventually came around to our side of the island, saw what? Well, they were expecting an ecological nightmare. And when they saw lights on and people working, they were blown away. And so they started sending humanitarian aid that was destined for Puerto Rico, because nobody could get in or out of San Juan, they sent it to us. And in that process, we met people in the energy industry who were sending equipment, like bucket trucks, and poles, and then all of this, they're sending into Puerto Rico to repair the electric system. And in that process, we met people who were like, This looks dangerous, you know, what's your safety record, like when we showed them? Initially, they didn't believe us. But they called Puerto Rico OSHA, they called OSHA, and they're like, no, no, this is what is right. The data is right, this is a safe operation, and said, well, one star tree company. And it because people were getting killed in California, removing trees from powerlines, to try and keep the state from burning to the ground, right. And it was not being done safely. People were dying, doing this work. And they knew it had to stop. And they couldn't seem to figure out how to get it to stop. But they saw this operation, like, you must know something, right? Come on out. And so we did, and my business partners and I, we started a business there. But in the process of doing that, I am New York lawyer, not a California lawyer, I knew there were all kinds of traps and pitfalls for the unwary. And so I thought, well, I'll go hire a California lawyer who can coach me through the whole process of setting up this business, make sure I know what all the permits are in the licenses and all of that. And I found nobody, I looked at big firms, small firms, medium firms, nobody knew the industry and other people who knew pieces of it like wildfire litigation and things like that. But in terms of the overall picture, I didn't find anyone who really could coach me through. And I thought, no, can't be the state spends $5 billion a year cutting trees away from powerlines. It can't be that there are no lawyers who know this. So it's not you, it's me, I'm doing something wrong. They're not looking at places. And so I started looking at law schools, figuring what somebody's teaching this and whoever is teaching it, I'll find their favorite student, and I'll hire that person. And it turns out, no, there wasn't a law school in the English speaking world. That was teaching, utility vegetation management. And I thought, well, that doesn't make sense. Now, I had lots of lawyers who were willing for, you know, $1,500 an hour to learn this. For me, that's like, well, you know, your experience in the legal industry doesn't help in terms of in terms of just basic research, I can go to my old law school, and hire some students for 20 bucks an hour, and they'll get me the exact same answers. And they did. And so we started the company. But in the meantime, I talked to the dean, and I said, you know, this is globally, maybe 20 $50 billion a year. And there's no lawyers being produced to handle this stuff at any law school anywhere in the world. We should teach this. They said, Well, you're absolutely right. But you know what? I'm a constitutional law scholar, I don't know this stuff. You seem to figure it out? Why don't you teach it. And so four years ago, I created at Tulane, the utility vegetation management institute, and we are looking at the areas where utilities and the natural world come together, and problems need to be resolved. And we teach students how to handle this kind of this kind of work. We introduce them to leaders in the industry, most most of whom are not lawyers, because there's there really aren't many lawyers in this industry who really know it. But the people are in operations. They're in finance, they're in just general business. And so they're learning from the best in the country. And they are taking that knowledge, doing original research writing on things that no one has ever written about before. The problem for the students is if they do that, and try and publish it as a student, it almost never gets published. And even if it does, it's a student's, nobody really reads it. But I've got the gray hair. And so the student writes two thirds of the paper I write 1/3. And I put the student's name first because that's the name everyone's going to remember. But my name goes on the back that way it gets in gets published and and then we find speaking opportunities for the students to come to places like PowerGen, this is my first PowerGen but but looking for opportunities for the students to speak on important topics and speak to the people in the industry and show what can be done. And with that the students are getting jobs. I've got a 100% placement record for my students and notion explosion stuff. It really is, it really is I, I feel like I've stumbled on a black swan. It's, it's, it's amazing of that, you know, it's not like electricity is new. It's not like nature. Nobody's really been doing the combination of these two things. And so with, with that I saw I, I see part of the mission of the VMI app to lane to educate students so that they can help industry and government and public advocates and the public generally in understanding the issues and being able to handle legal questions that come up in this area. But the other side of what I want to do is become a center for excellence for government and industry and, and, and public advocates to come to Tulane to get a pure science, academic, honest feedback on whatever their questions may be. And one of those questions and I think what was the lead into our first discussion was with respect to the use of artificial intelligence, enhanced remote sensing, whether that technology is viable for finding tree and powerline complexes, and it's really important, because according to the Department of Energy, something between 70 and 80% of all power outages across the country each year, are caused by tree and powerline conflicts, resulting in a loss of insured business in just insured part of business of somewhere between 100 and $150 billion a year. It's extraordinary. And it's preventable. And when you think about 100 $50 billion, it's a Gross Domestic Product of a country like Hungary. I mean, we could be adding that to our economy each year,
I have to interrupt here, but how do we? Who is responsible? Who is isn't the utilities that are responsible for the mat for the management of the vegetation? And if that's the case, then is there a way of being able to, in a collaborative sense? Have a business vegetation management? I don't know. There's, it's like, the utilities need to do it. But But you understand the challenge? Let's just put it that way. Yes,
yes. And the utilities are required to do this work. It's different work for transmission than it is for distribution. But by and large, what you are doing is removing trees from the possibility or the potential to strike the line. And it sounds simple, but it really isn't. It's very, very complicated it is and the financial challenges that go along with that. Not that, you know, utilities are necessarily poor. But the issue is, they have to assign what bucket of money this comes from. And there are challenges there.
It's an array case, and that's right, you know, right.
But the one of the problems is that they cannot just simply spend the money that's in the rate case to be spent on man, because it goes into a general operation expense bucket. And that's available for anyone at the utility who has an operational need. So you got to repair a truck, or you've got to put gas in the vehicle or something. All of that comes out of operations. And one of the challenges for many utilities is that there are long periods of time, when they're not allowed to countries, for example, throughout most of the eastern part of our country, that's the migratory path of the Indiana bat, which is a protected species. And you cannot cut trees for months. And those are some of the best months to cut trees. But you've got to protect the bat. And that means that that is a valuable thing to do. But meanwhile, people at the utility are dipping their hands in that bucket pulling out operational funds for legitimate purposes. But then it gets to the point where the Indiana bat is now gone. And you can start cutting trees again. And the bucket is not as complete it to be Yeah. And so they then have to quickly prioritize Well, what are we going to cut, we've got to do this more on a risk based kind of analysis and trying to overlay a risk based process on what most of the country does, which is circuit, trimming, you know, you just start at one spot and you come around 5678 years later and you're back to the same spot. Trying to meld those two is tough. It really doesn't work very well and you wind up skipping a lot of trees that ultimately need to be cut. What uh, getting back to the study that we did, it was fun. Funded by a gift from Ai Dash. And they are one of the leaders in satellite technology. And they wanted to know, you know, is this technology as good as we think it is? There, there are prior studies, I'm not gonna say that my study is the very first study. But it is the first neutral academic study, not influenced by, by commercial purposes, right? m&m Mars does a study that says that chocolate is good for your health. You know, I want to believe it with all my heart. But is it really true? You know, I don't know, right? But here, you know, the gift was, was generous, but it wasn't the kind of thing like to lean is not being bought by the size of the gift. And so this, this gift simply made possible the research work, a lot of it went to arborists, who I hired to check on what the satellites were saying. So what we did was, I selected a 100 square mile area, that wound up having about 60 to 70 Linear miles of distribution in it. And, and then I dashed, did their analysis provided the analysis to me, I turned it over to the arborists, who had no contact whatsoever with AI Das. Right. And, and then I asked them, check, is it right here six categories, and check and see if it is if the satellite is right or wrong, or, you know, reasonably close? And, and so they did that? And what they were finding was that in most of the major categories, the answer was 90%, or better accuracy, sometimes 95%, or better accuracy, right. But in addition to all of that, which, which shows that the technology really does work, it is amazingly accurate, it is not a replacement for human beings, but it is a great tool to add on. And the way I know that is I asked the arborists, a very important question. Would you have seen that tree in powerline conflict? If it wasn't for the help of the satellite? And on average, every mile of line? The answer was no. At least once. And these are some of the best qualified arborists in the country, you know, their tracks certified. I used Plank Road forestry and they were great. And they're super, super qualified. They do this work all over the country. They're, they're really amazing in terms of their knowledge and skills. And when they went out there, and they were saying, you know, I would never have seen this on the standard inspection never. And in one of those spots, they said, you know, even if it was a California style level three inspection, where you're going completely around the tree, you're probing the roots, you're getting elevation, looking down on the whole scene, still missing it. And that explains why we have so many outages, why we have so many wildfires, yeah.
But it makes sense that you're leveraging a technology that allows you to have greater visibility into your plan and and be able to direct those dollars in a more effective way as opposed to the circuit. The way I used to do it as a lineman, just go over there, and don't get yelled at and try to do it as safe as possible. That's sort of the process there. So so the the overall result of the report. Well,
was was well, I wanted to, I want to say that it's a couple of things. One is it supports all of these notions that we are not finding all the conflicts and why it's because the technology that is available is not being used to repurpose that's one, two, it's showing that the technology is accurate enough to be worth using. Right? This is no longer experimental. This is good, solid. This is a good solid tool that can really help prevent these kinds of losses and tragedies. And so many people get electrocuted from from tree and powerline conflicts, sadly and scarily many of them are children. And then third, most importantly, I'm saying to regulators, look, this was a pilot study, but the idea of artificial intelligence is that it will only get better. Oh, yeah. And so if that is the real situation here, then regulators ought to start the rulemaking process now. They ought to start now requiring utilities to use remote sensing to find these train powerline complex.
That's a mosque kind of people get a hold of you there. Lawrence, aka Larry. I'm
easily reachable at Tulane. You can find me on the Tulane Law School website under the faculty page. My email is l con kh n email@example.com.
Excellent conversation. I hate to wrap it up on people. Yeah, sure. But anyway, thank you very much for being on Industrial Talk listeners. We're gonna have all the contact information for Larry out on Industrial Talks. We'll reach out to him and find out More about vegetation that report all of it. It's, it's lived there. I did it. And it is a, it's a consistent and constant problem and challenge and they're using technology to do that. All right. Stay tuned, we will be right back.
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Larry Kahn, right there right now. That was that PowerGen absolutely wonderful event. vegetation management. Big, big challenge for utilities, making incredible strides in managing the assets within utilities. That's a great report. I I can truly appreciate what Larry and company are doing with that. Most definitely go out to Industrial Talk, reach out to Larry and ask him some tough questions. He'll answer them. We'll answer them truthfully. Industrial Talk is here for you. We are about education. We are about collaboration, and we are about innovation. Take a look at Larry Kahn's report. Innovation. That's what we're all about. Please be a part of this ecosystem. click on Connect. Talk to me. Let's see how we can work together. Be bold, be brave, dare greatly hang out with Larry change the world. We're gonna have another great conversation shortly.