An integrated vegetation management (IVM) program can save money in the short term, according to Charles Bevis, general manager for the Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative (Savannah, Tennessee, U.S.).

Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative expanded its vegetation management program to include an herbicide spray program because its system, which consists of 1850 miles (2977 km) of distribution rights-of-way that cover challenging hills and hollows, was becoming more difficult to manage by mechanical means alone.

Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative keeps its team of 14 full-time foresters busy year-round managing its system through a combination of chemical and mechanical means. To chemically control brush species such as sweet gum, the utility uses a tank mix of Arsenal herbicide with glyphosate. Spraying May through mid-August, the team uses backpacks, a converted tractor and a four-wheel-drive vehicle to spray the mix. “We convert the equipment to use with our mechanical program when our spray season is done,” Bevis says.

During the first year of its herbicide program, the utility worked with an outside applicator. When it brought the spray program in-house for year two, Tennessee Valley helped five of its existing staff members become certified applicators.

“The applicator's results were great, but it was just more cost-effective for us to bring the program in-house,” Bevis says. “We also believe that it has helped customers accept the program to have our own staff working in the field.”

The co-op has reaped indirect savings since adopting an IVM program. “With the spray program, we can target problem areas. Areas where it's difficult, expensive and dangerous to send our mechanical crews, we spray,” Bevis explains. “Because we're no longer trying to cut in those difficult areas, it increases the longevity of our equipment and the safety of our crew, and it reduces customer complaints.”

In addition, spraying saves the utility time. “It would have taken us a week to mechanically control the same mile where it took us two days to spray,” said Bevis. Last summer alone the co-op sprayed what would have taken it about two years to cut. The utility is on a six-year-or-less-frequent spraying cycle. Now in year four, with more than three-quarters of the system sprayed, the emphasis soon will shift to a maintenance program.

Customer acceptance is the key to a successful vegetation management program. “There were a few customers who were concerned,” Bevis says. “We explained the benefits of using herbicides, in particular how using Arsenal herbicide can benefit wildlife habitat, and those concerns disappeared.”

As for the IVM program, Bevis remains impressed with the results. “Now we can concentrate on problem areas, not chase after the system.”
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