The hard truth about trimming trees

Illinois electric cooperatives own and maintain 56,000 miles of right-of-way and trees and power lines like this don’t mix. They cause outages and even worse — safety issues. Make sure your children know that climbing trees near power lines is extremely dangerous.

Illinois electric cooperatives own and maintain 56,000 miles of right-of-way and trees and power lines like this don’t mix. They cause outages and even worse — safety issues. Make sure your children know that climbing trees near power lines is extremely dangerous.

Lynn Frasco, retiring Manager of Menard Electric Cooperative in Petersburg, took a question from the audience at his final annual meeting in June. It was a question every manager has had to answer and Frasco has probably answered it hundreds of times.

“Why do you have to cut our trees?”

Frasco got a little ­emotional when the question reminded him of an accident that summed up the main reason he says we must trim trees. Here’s what he said to the co-op ­members at the meeting:

Tree trimming is one of those things where we try to find a balance. With tree ­trimming there are really four issues that we care about and we pay attention to.

The first is safety. Safety is the primary reason we trim trees. Electricity and trees don’t get along. It creates a very dangerous situation. We trim trees to make sure our ­employees don’t have to work in a more dangerous zone than they already have to during a storm, or even normal ­operations. We trim trees to make sure the public isn’t at risk.

When I worked at City Water, Light and Power in Springfield, I went to six funerals. Three were linemen, (clears his throat) who were killed doing their job. One was a power plant employee and two were people affected by trees. One was a tree trimmer who got a little careless and got too close to the conductor and was killed. The second one (pausing now to contain his emotion) was a 10-year-old girl who was climbing in the trees and reached up and touched the line and was killed. (He again had to pause and you could hear a pin drop.) Her eight-year-old sister was right behind her in the tree and had to see that.

Safety is a real issue we should never, ever forget.

Reliability is also important. We talk about making sure that the trees are trimmed so the lights stay on. And that is absolutely a real consideration. Menard Electric Cooperative has a pretty good tree trimming program, but it can get better.

We also have the issue of trying to use reasonable ­standards. We measure reliability by the number of outage hours, per member, per year. And the national average is around three to three-and-a-half hours per year. Menard Electric achieves that in most years, but last year we were twice the national average. Now I will tell you that most of that outage time was caused by transmission outages, but trees were another big part of it. We need to do everything we can to keep outages as low as possible.

The next is economic efficiency. We don’t want to waste a lot of your money having the tree trimming crew go cut two feet of branches off the line and come back the next year and cut another two feet, and so on. We are out there to trim the right-of-way so the line can stay in service for at least five years. That means 10 to 15 feet of clearance, and possibly even more than that depending on the tree variety.

Finally, we trim trees to meet the arborist standards. We trim trees so that it causes the least amount of ­damage to the tree. It may not always be pretty, but it is done to ­arborist standards. Sometimes there are certain varieties of trees that will never coexist with the electric lines. They simply need to be removed.

So those are the four criteria safety, reliability, economic efficiency and trimming to arborist standards. That is the policy we follow. It is not cheap. We are spending more money today trimming trees than we used to because we are catching up. We hope in a couple of years we will have the trimming done to the standards and the budget can be reduced.

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