Trees and power lines are not a good mix. One tree limb was one of the causes of the 2003 “northeast blackout” that cut power to 55 million people in eight states and Canada. After that blackout, new federal requirements and financial penalties for non-compliance were created to ensure the reliability of the electric grid.
While tree trimming and removal have always been part of Nebraska Public Power District’s operations, it is increasing patrols of over 5,000 miles of transmission and sub-transmission lines across the state to identify and eliminate potential hazards. The patrols, which will be done by helicopter or “foot” patrols, will include trimming and removal of trees within the power line right-of-way. This effort will ensure a reliable electric system while protecting the public safety for customers throughout the state.
"We trim trees for two very important reasons – to ensure our customers have dependable electric service and to prevent safety hazards," said NPPD Transmission and Distribution Manager Tom Kent. "By maintaining an appropriate clearance in the power line right-of-way, we can reduce tree-related power outages."
Kent explained that NPPD must follow strict, federal guidelines for vegetation management within the right-of-way of transmission power lines to avoid financial penalties for violations. He pointed out that the vegetation management program is a year-round effort, but crews will make identifying and addressing vegetation issues and line maintenance issues their focus starting this month through June.
The first “foot” patrol of the lines being conducted by NPPD crews is currently underway near Lincoln and in southeast Nebraska, and will take about two months to complete. Aerial patrol by helicopter of lines in the Kearney and central Nebraska region is underway, and a similar one for the North Platte and western Nebraska region begins April 15. The Norfolk and northeast Nebraska region will begin “foot” patrols April 15, and will take approximately two months to complete.
Trees and limbs falling on power lines cause power outages and disruptions on NPPD’s electric system. Trees too close to power lines can provide a path for electricity to reach the ground, which can result in property damage or serious injury to anyone touching the tree. The goal of NPPD’s vegetation management program is to reduce these hazards and promote long-term vegetation management control within the right-of-way of power lines, minimizing the cost of future maintenance.
NPPD’s policy is to remove trees and other woody-stemmed vegetation within the transmission line right of-way, as well as tall-growing trees located outside the right of way that could interfere with the continuous safe operation of the electric system. In many cases, this has meant removing trees in areas where they may have been trimmed in the past. NPPD will dispose of brush and wood resulting from non-emergency tree pruning. Brush and trees that have fallen on lines due to a storm will be removed by NPPD crews but disposal is the responsibility of the customer.
NPPD is not new to handling vegetation management along its power lines. The District follows proper guidelines set by the National Arbor Day Foundation, Utility Arborists Association, International Society of Arboriculture, and the Tree Care Industry Association. NPPD is a member in good standing with the Tree Line USA Program and has been recognized over the years for its work.
Kent explained that the District uses a thorough process when it comes to vegetation management, with its customers and property owners in mind.
”We will work to address issues and resolve any concerns customers and property owners may have when it comes to trimming and removal of trees within the right-of-way,” he explained. “We will keep them informed about our activities near or on their property.”
He also pointed out that landowners can play an important role in vegetation management by planting the right trees in the right place, and NPPD will provide information to help landowners understand this process.