Utility vegetation management is the identification of and response to trees and brush that threaten power lines and other electrical facilities. It is an ongoing part of an electric co-op’s maintenance program, as it is critical to preventing power service interruptions. Hazardous trees and other vegetation can cause outages andimpede access to facilities when routine or emergency repairs are needed.
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Utilities are required to maintain clearance between their transmission lines and surrounding trees at all times. Failure to prune vegetation or remove hazardous trees can result in billions of dollars in fines and loss of life and property. Hazardous trees are those that are unhealthy and have the potential to fall on a power line, which is a leading cause of service interruptions and wildfires. Vegetation management includes herbicide application, trimming or removing mature trees and incompatible target brush such as immature trees (which can become hazardous trees that encroach on power lines as they mature), as well as encouraging the growth of compatible vegetation like low-growing trees and shrubs that do not threaten the reliability of an electric system.
Only utility arborists who meet OSHA qualifications are legally permitted to conduct vegetation management within 10 feet of energized power lines and must work within federal, state, and local regulations. High voltage transmission lines operated above 200,000 volts (and some between 100kV and 200kV) are subject to North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) Electric Reliability Standard FA-003-4, while lower-voltage distribution lines are controlled by the regulatory commission of each state. Some tree trimming activities that directly affect homeowners and involve local distribution (not transmission) are exclusively subject to state and local oversight.
A cost-effective vegetation management program requires a proactive approach, strict adherence to regulation standards, and meticulous recordkeeping. A mobile vegetation management app enables users to identify trees that need pruning or removal and utility arborists to locate them easily. The arborists can then send reports, including photos, directly from the field to maintain a central database where documentation is stored safely in the cloud where they can be accessed quickly and easily to prove compliance with NERC, state, and local regulations.