Since Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative (JMEC) adopted a formal vegetation management program in 2012, it has achieved a drastic reduction in outages. Historically, the utility has had crews perform vegetation management work on an annual basis, but over the last few years, it started looking into a more formal program, recognizing that a strategic, comprehensive vegetation management plan would help to lessen the likelihood of an outage. While the program is still in its infancy, the cooperative already is experiencing positive, impactful results: The number of outages has decreased nearly 26%.
Established in 1947 as a small hydropower generating station serving just three families, JMEC now has a service territory spanning more than 6,500 sq miles (16,835 sq km) amidst volcanic mountains in the north central portion of New Mexico, known as the land of enchantment. JMEC provides power to more than 33,000 customers in five counties and is the largest utility of its kind in the state of New Mexico.
JMEC strives to continuously improve the reliability of its electric service for customers who rely on the utility to keep the lights on in their homes and businesses. To achieve this, JMEC knew a concerted effort and intentional approach toward vegetation management was necessary. With a goal of improving reliability and enhancing customer education, the cooperative called on certified arborists from ACRT Inc., an independent utility vegetation management (UVM) consulting company, to perform pre-inspections and audits of completed work along the utility’s 5,000 miles (8,047 km) of overhead lines to ensure work was performed as prescribed.
With its professional UVM program now in place, JMEC receives expert help in making proper cuts, predicting growth patterns of trees and improving clearances along power lines. In addition, through the UVM program, arborists have been educating customers on the necessity of vegetation management along power lines.
JMEC’s customers are pleased because the arborists have been helpful in explaining why vegetation management work — from the tree in a customer’s backyard to the one planted 100 years ago — is needed to improve safety and reliability. In fact, several customers have thanked the utility because they now understand why a UVM program is so important.
As part of their work, ACRT foresters continually monitor the status of the right-of-way easements to ensure trees and shrubbery are clear of power lines. Crews also log and schedule tree-trimming dates to respond effectively and efficiently to trouble calls from members.
Since the program was adopted in April 2012, crews have performed work on about 8,200 trees, more than half of which were removals, including those on private properties and public lands of the U.S. Forest Service. JMEC has implemented a systematic approach to its vegetation management work. Work now can be started at the substation and make its way through the line.
Cut Operating Costs, Too
In JMEC’s Española district, crews have surveyed circuits, and tree work is in progress. The proactive approach has led to the removal of 46% of trees that receive preventive maintenance work, helping to eliminate future conflicts.
JMEC’s vegetation management program also comprises herbicide applications throughout the Jemez Valley, which contains such trees as locusts and Siberian elms. Now they perform applications or removals at a rate of 50%. The cooperative expects its UVM program investment will reduce overall operating costs eventually and prevent costly unscheduled maintenance, including considerable overtime charges generated by tree and wire issues.
The biggest benefit is to the customers. They appreciate that JMEC is being more proactive in the work. This is helping the utility to establish a cycle, so it does not have to go back every single year to trim along power lines.
While UVM efforts may be a considerable cost for a utility, not adopting such a program can be even more expensive. When utilities defer maintenance, they push back trim cycles. But vegetation does not stop growing. The larger trees and brush grow, the more expensive vegetation management becomes, especially when it entails overtime for linemen who are completing restoration work. And it is difficult to predict when overtime will occur, especially when it is needed because of a major weather event. Severe storms or damage caused by insects can extend a project beyond its initial timeline, adding to the bill.
Before the UVM program kicked off, many JMEC customers were concerned about their service drops and what would happen if trees touched them. JMEC has helped to explain the dangers and differences of 240 V versus 24,950 V, or service wires versus high-voltage wires in their yards. Crews initially trimmed for service drops but are now shifting their resources to focus on the primary wires.
Additionally, obtaining permission from customers on whose properties work needed to be performed has been overwhelmingly successful, though it did not start out that way. The first person called on for trimming permission refused. As a result, everyone thought the job of obtaining permissions was going to be difficult. However, since then, there have been only three more refusals. Overall, if people think vegetation is a hazard, they want it removed.
Many JMEC customers do not want elm trees, as they are often considered a nuisance in this region, and JMEC does not want them under the lines. The utility has been able to remove nearly 80% of these trees. In the mountainous areas, the coop is experiencing about the same thing with conifers. This area of New Mexico has a great number of trees, so customers understand that many will remain on their properties.
The efficiency in responding to trouble calls also has vastly improved as they are now quickly handled and resolved. This prompt attention has led to improved reliability while achieving greater customer satisfaction through timely response, communication and tree work completion.
JMEC’s UVM program supports its mission to provide reliable and affordable power throughout its diverse service areas. In partnerships with the communities it serves, the coop provides innovative, cost-effective solutions to satisfy the electric energy needs of all its members and consumers. JMEC plans to continue the successful program, possibly expanding it to include patrolling and vegetation management work throughout the Santa Fe Ski Basin and additional priority areas.
Jim Wiseman joined Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative in 1985 and was named director of operations in December 2012. He has considerable experience as a journeyman lineman, and he completed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association management internship program in 2012.
ACRT | www.acrtinc.com
Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative | www.jemezcoop.org
Sidebar: Best in Class Through Proper Training
Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative (JMEC) launched a successful utility vegetation management (UVM) program and is committed to operating a program that is best in class. To help achieve this goal and enhance the utility’s preventive maintenance program, the cooperative requires contract crews to have undergone rigorous training and earned certifications relative to the work they perform.
Supporting the ultimate aim of maximizing tree worker safety in the U.S., this ensures compliance with the critical standards: Occupational Safety & Health Administration 1910.269 and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z133.
The arboricultural operations safety requirements, developed by the accredited standards committee on safety in tree trimming operations Z133 according to the procedures of ANSI, is considered to be the leading authority for safe practice in tree care in the tree care industry. While compliance is voluntary, adherence to ANSI Z133 requirements is often cited by regulatory authorities as a source of best practices and thus can be backed by the force of law.
In addition to benefiting JMEC and its customers through improved reliability, the training and certification provided by ACRT helps to ensure UVM crews follow safe work practices around high-voltage areas and know how to avoid dangerous situations.