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Illinois Country Living

Steve Epperson

Steve Epperson, President/CEO, McDonough Power Cooperative,
Macomb, Ill.


Trees, Ice and Electric Lines Don’t Mix
Cooperatives are ramping up right-of-way maintenance

The past couple years electric utilities and cooperatives have been hammered by an unusual number of ice storms. Ice storms are our regions version of a hurricane. They create widespread damage, even worse than tornadoes.

Water is deceptively heavy and when it is frozen to power lines and tree limbs the added weight brings it all crashing down.

Earlier in my career I was the Senior Vice President for the subsidiary of an electric cooperative. The co-op’s subsidiary provided right-of-way maintenance for cooperatives and other utilities across the midwest. So my perspective on right-of-way maintenance comes from real-world examples of what works and what does not work.

It is clear, in terms of what works, that cooperatives do it the right way for the right reasons.

Cooperatives take a very different approach to maintaining their rights-of-way. I’m sure that your cooperative, as does ours, places an emphasis on service and reliability and is willing to take a long-term approach in order to achieve it economically.

In other words, your cooperative, because of the cooperative business structure, is not interested in year-end margins or dividends, but in providing the best possible service at the lowest possible price. Electric co-ops have been doing this for nearly 70 years and plan to do it another 70 years.

Your cooperative’s approach to right-of-way maintenance depicts this. Committing the necessary resources to clearing and/or spraying the rights-of-way to its full legal limits (15 to 20 feet on either side of the line, ground to sky) is a clear example.

This allows your cooperative to extend the time required before employees or contractors must return and trim what God continues to grow. Most cooperatives will commit the resources necessary for a five to six year rotation.

The alternative, used too often by those interested primarily in year-end margins, is to simply cut the limbs out of the line that are causing the immediate problem. Short-term this is quicker and cheaper, but long-term it will require more trips, result in more outages, and cost more money. Again, cooperatives take a different approach that emphasizes stewardship, service and reliability.

Why is it important for a member of a cooperative to understand the process and the rationale behind funding it? It’s your cooperative, it’s your money, and the reliability of electricity affects you. The consequences associated with not maintaining rights-of-way correctly are higher rates and danger due to electricity escaping through trees that are in contact with power lines (yes, trees do conduct electricity because of moisture and sap).

Further consequences are readily seen during ice-storms, high winds and other inclement weather when the trees that are touching or close to power lines cause blinking lights and outages. Even when the proper process is followed you may still experience an outage. However, the frequency and length of those outages will be dramatically reduced. With a properly maintained right-of-way linemen can get to the lines and poles, which are no longer obstructed by vegetation, and restore power quickly. This is your cooperative’s goal. But they can use your help.

Please work with your local cooperative when notice is given that clearing and/or spraying may be taking place in your area. Try to be understanding when trees are trimmed under cooperative lines that are on your property. Do not plant trees under the power lines. Keep areas around meters, transformers or other electrical equipment free of any vegetation that could limit access. Finally, let your cooperative know if you are aware of trees that are in lines or near line equipment - do not attempt to remove them on your own.

Remember the goal of your cooperative is to provide safe and reliable electricity at a reasonable price. With your assistance and a cooperative approach to right-of-way maintenance this is attainable.

The opinions and views of guest commentators are their own and may not represent those of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives or the electric co-ops of Illinois.

© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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