Vegetation management, commonly referred to as right-of-way maintenance, is essential in providing safe and reliable electric service. Electric cooperatives work hard to ensure that rights of way are regularly cleared of trees and brush to help reduce potential outages and hazards. Trees and branches growing in or near power lines can cause interruptions in service. Uncontrolled brush can impede access to utility structures.

Keeping safety first

            Trees and branches pose significant safety concerns when they are too close to power lines. Children climbing trees in this situation could be severely injured or even killed if they contact an energized line. Adults are also at risk. Pruning trees near power lines should be left to qualified vegetation management professionals.

            Additionally, trees can fall into power lines due to strong wind and inclement weather. Not only can power lines be knocked over, but power poles and towers can break and fall as well. Although all weather-related outages can not be prevented, vegetation management definitely minimizes damage, injury and outages.

Reducing the likelihood for power outages

            In August 2003, approximately 40 million people lost power for roughly two days in the northeastern United States. The root cause for this massive blackout – overgrown trees that contacted high-voltage power lines. The importance of vegetation management can not be stressed enough. In fact, the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) has established mandatory requirements for transmission vegetation management.

The new standards apply to transmission lines operating at 200 kilovolts and above. Transmission lines are used to carry bulk electricity from a generating plant to a substation. Currently voluntary, these new requirements will likely become mandatory by June 2007 and will establish formal transmission vegetation management programs that define the following:

    • regular schedules for clearing
    • clearances between vegetation and transmission lines
    • quarterly reporting systems for transmission outages caused by vegetation

Vegetation management for distribution lines is addressed through the National Electric Safety Code (NESC). Distribution lines deliver electric energy to cooperative members. Although there are no specific requirements, NESC states, “vegetation that may damage ungrounded supply lines should be pruned or removed.” Some electric cooperatives are also regulated by state commissions to address right-of-way cycles.

In addition to safety concerns and outage prevention, vegetation management is necessary to reduce unexpected costs to electric cooperatives. By keeping rights of way clear, co-op crews are able to restore power more quickly, improve reliability and prevent expensive repairs to systems damaged by fallen trees or neglected vegetation.

Electric cooperatives do a good job of right-of-way vegetation management. In general, vegetation management is performed at electric cooperatives every two and a half to five years, depending on the service territory and terrain. Should you notice any trees or brush that need attention, please contact your local electric cooperative. This will help ensure cooperative efforts to deliver safe, reliable power at the lowest possible cost.