The U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station has awarded DTE Energy a $700,000 grant to remove dead and dying ash trees located near power lines, which will help residents in six counties across Southeast Michigan deal with the emerald ash borer.
The project is expected to help reduce power outages for customers in Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties. Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, the grant will allow an additional 12 tree trimmers to be employed.
Key among the benefits of the project is that the tree removal will take place at no cost to customers.
Extensive ash tree mortality has occurred in southeast Michigan as a result of infestation by the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that is continuing to spread to other states. Ash trees, which can grow to be 60 feet in height, become very brittle after being infested by the emerald ash borer. Tree limbs or entire trees can fall unexpectedly, especially during high winds. Tree interference is responsible for about two-thirds of the power outages that occur during storms.
"The U.S. Forest Service grant gives us an opportunity to minimize power outages in areas where the impact of ash trees has been a growing concern," said Vince Dow, DTE Energy vice president of Distribution Operations. "We are excited that this program allows us to focus on some key areas that have been hardest hit where we've seen high levels of outages, historically."
The ash tree removal grant targets trees that are outside of DTE Energy's routine line clearance program, which focuses on trimming and removal of trees and branches within 10-feet of the power lines.
The problem of falling trees and tree limbs poses a serious danger to people and property, and threatens the reliability of the electrical grid. DTE Energy is working closely with its contractors to ensure customer and worker safety throughout the process.
"Removing dead and dying ash trees is important both for human safety and in fighting the emerald ash borer," according to Therese Poland Ph.D., a research entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station. "This American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant is an important step in accomplishing both."
Dead and dying ash trees that are in danger of falling or hitting DTE Energy's pole-to-pole wires will be candidates for removal under the grant. DTE Energy will use five line clearance contractors currently in the areas affected by the emerald ash borer. The contractors are Davey Tree Expert Co., Kappen Tree Service LLC, Nelson Tree Service, N.G. Gilbert Co. and The Energy Group.
Debris from the infested trees will be left on site and will be the responsibility of the property owners to remove. Additionally, customers will be required to sign a release form agreeing to the tree removal and disposition of the debris.
Ash tree firewood and wood debris cannot be transported out of the emerald ash borer quarantine area established by the Michigan Department of Agriculture.
The determining factors for the geographic areas that are covered under the grant were areas that DTE Energy trimmed trees on routine maintenance from 2008 to 2010, outage data to determine where tree/wind related outages still occurred, and field observations. Individual requests outside of these areas will not be part of the grant program.
"We trim trees for two very important reasons – to ensure our customers have dependable electric service and to prevent safety hazards," said Dow. "By clearing to a 10-foot distance between tree branches and our power lines, we can significantly reduce tree-related power outages. This grant will enable us to focus on dead and dying trees that are outside of our typical coverage area."