Additional Article

JUNE 2007

Keeping the Lights On
Reliable service starts with a quality right-of-way maintenance program

Trees and branches growing in or near power lines can cause blinking lights and long outages. Right-of-way maintenance, also called vegetation management, is essential to providing safe and reliable electric service. But with thousands of miles of line and right of way to maintain it’s a very big and expensive job.

Keeping safety first

Trees and branches too close to power lines also pose significant safety concerns. Children climbing trees 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. Although all weather-related outages can’t be prevented, vegetation management definitely minimizes damage, potential injury and outages. This past winter’s ice storms caused widespread damage to trees and power lines. Without quality vegetation management programs the outages could have been even longer and more expensive to repair.

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 was overgrown trees that contacted high-voltage power lines. To help prevent outages the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) has established mandatory requirements for transmission vegetation management.

The new standards apply to transmission lines used to carry bulk electricity from a generating plant to a substation. Currently voluntary, these new requirements will likely become mandatory this month. Although electric co-ops in Illinois own 54,530 miles of line, only 1,446 miles of transmission line is co-op owned. The bulk of transmission service to Illinois co-ops is supplied by investor-owned utilities.

In general, vegetation management is performed in cycles that range from two and a half to five years, depending on the vegetation species and terrain. Should you notice any trees or brush that need attention, please contact your local electric cooperative.

By following scientific management practices established by the International Society of Arboriculture, with the help of the Utility Arborist Association, electric co-ops are reducing costs and creating long-term solutions.

Hiring experts and taking a scientific management approach to right-of-way maintenance is making a big difference for Egyptian Electric Cooperative in Steeleville. Mark Stallons, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the co-op, says, “The field manager we have here is a four-year degreed forestry major. He knows all about diseased trees, which ones grow fast, which grow slow. He helps us maximize our tree removals, manages our productivity and audits the work. Our productivity improved and went from 1.5 hours per unit down to about 1 hour per unit.”

With 2,212 miles of right of way to maintain in southern Illinois, Egyptian Electric spends nearly $750,000 a year. But Stallons says it is a pay me now, or pay me later equation. “Just compare the restoration time at a system that has a poorly managed right-of-way program and one
that has a well managed one. After an ice storm like we had in Illinois this past winter you could see a huge difference.”