Safety & Health:
The Right Tree in the Right Place
Safety and reliability are improved with vegetation management
Vegetation management (VM) is the industry term for trimming trees and cutting brush in right-of-ways. This practice is necessary to prevent overhead power lines from contacting trees and brush. Most utilities use specially trained crews for this job. The examples given in this article apply specifically to Menard Electric Cooperative in Petersburg and its relationship with Burton Tree Service (BTS), but could apply to other cooperatives as well. Keep in mind other providers may employ similar techniques, but some practices may vary.
Just like cars, electric utility systems require routine work. A properly maintained system is more reliable. Electric co-ops use VM to aid in the maintenance of their distribution lines. The goal of VM is to reduce outages and take care of potentially hazardous situations. Sometimes, a tree that would not normally have grown to reach the height of overhead power lines, will, given the opportunity of full sunlight, proper nutrients and reduced competition. Because of this, VM is necessary.
Right-of-ways, which are areas of land that accommodate poles, overhead lines and underground pipelines, travel through many yards in the rural areas. These areas deserve special attention. Homeowners can take note of overhead lines when planting trees to prevent future problems. Any tree nursery can tell you the growth potential of most tree species. Keep the future in mind when planting your trees. Far too often vegetation managers hear homeowners say they never looked up. Often, people say they did not think the trees would grow fast enough to be a problem in their lifetime. Once a tree has been planted under a power line, it becomes the cooperative’s responsibility to maintain that it does not interfere with power lines.
Vegetation contractors have a tough job and must keep both the utility provider and the homeowner in mind when performing the necessary work. They also use pruning techniques that are best for the health of the tree. Sometimes concessions must be made to provide electrical service. Menard Electric contracts BTS to trim the trees in its right-of-way. This is of no cost to the member. BTS does remove trees that may cause hazardous situations. In order to prevent future problems and rising workload, we try to cut out volunteer tree species, or trees not planted by human hands, under power lines in rural settings. This process is what we refer to as cutting brush. A small amount of a systemic herbicide is used to prevent stump sprouts. Low-growing plant species provide natural competition for volunteer trees. In the long term, manual removal of target species is more economical and environmentally sound than complete vegetation removal.
The utility field harbors many hazards. For example: most distribution lines carry 7,200 volts (it takes 110 to make toast). As trees grow and touch energized lines, that current takes a path to ground through the branches. This presents a potentially fatal situation for anyone leisurely or professionally in the tree. Go to safeelectricity.org to read Shawn’s story.
The tools of our trade are hazardous. Proper training is a must. Chainsaws and brush chippers do not distinguish from wood or workers. Extreme caution is necessary when operating any equipment. Tree care professionals sometimes are required to climb trees to maintain line clearance. This takes us out of the protection of an insulated aerial lift and directly into the dangerous area around the power line.
Vegetation managers strive to aide electric co-ops in providing a safe and reliable power supply. When homeowners permit vegetation contractors to do their job to the best of their ability, potential line contact is reduced. We all hope to keep this cooperation a part of cooperatives. Remember, the right tree in the right place makes this possible.
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David Schenck is a certified arborist and an employee of Burton Tree Service, the vegetation management contractor for Menard Electric Cooperative, Petersburg, Ill.
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