As in other areas of the United States, North Carolina’s weather patterns in recent years have been outside what is considered normal and have tested electrical systems. For North Carolina-based Union Power Cooperative, the unprecedented amount of rain in the Southeast in 2013 and into 2014 has had a direct, negative impact on the amount of regrowth experienced along its rights-of-way. Much of the vegetation trimmed in 2012 has grown back to 2012 pre-trim distances; some areas have experienced 12 ft to 15 ft (3.6 m to 4.6 m) of regrowth.

In such cases, it can be difficult to decide exactly how to proceed. Should the utility move forward with the new set of trimming as scheduled or look back to what has been completed but is now at a stage that could create problems?

To help with making decisions like this, Union Power adopted a new tool less than a year ago that provides the data intelligence needed to manage its vegetation management program more effectively.

Union Power Cooperative, UVM application software

Challenge Becomes Opportunity

Vegetation management along the rights-of-way — including maintenance of vegetation outside of the rights-of-way to prevent it from making contact or falling onto transmission and distribution electrical lines and equipment — is, by its very nature, a complex adaptive process. Managers tasked with keeping electrical systems intact and in good working order are constantly juggling a myriad of internal and external conditions that directly impact reliability.

Like most vegetation managers at cooperatives across the country, Union Power is faced with a variety of factors that affect its operations. Examples of internal conditions include budgetary mandates, safety numbers and management-imposed goals such as improvements to the reliability indicators of the system average interruption duration index (SAIDI), system average interruption frequency index (SAIFI) and customer average interruption duration index (CAIDI).

In the realm of external conditions, examples include weather patterns, inherent challenges in demographics, regional affluent zones, governmental and state mandates, availability of vendors with established workforces and regional access limitations. The old adage of doing more with less — whether in the form of funds, time or resources — is a real challenge in this line of work.

For Union Power, this especially has rung true, but the cooperative identified the challenge as an opportunity. Until recently, its utility vegetation management (UVM) team relied on available data as effectively as they could but still encountered trials with managing vegetation. However, with the help of a new tool, the cooperative is turning that juggling act into a more balanced responsibility.

Application Drives Action

Driven by its mission to provide safe and reliable power with exceptional value, Union Power began using Arborcision from ACRT Inc. The service-as-a-software (SaaS) application provides valuable intelligence that helps Union Power’s UVM team determine better ways to manage systems and circuits, helping to drive more effective decisions with spending while improving overall reliability. Arborcision empowers the cooperative’s UVM leaders with the ability to make more informed decisions, because it provides the entire gamut of data intelligence necessary to effectively manage the program in an easy-to-use, comprehensible format.

The new tool incorporates targeted, utility-specific data to succinctly delineate a course of action for improvement. It also incorporates comparisons against other utilities of similar composition, referred to as cohorts. By combining real-life circuit samplings and proven algorithms, Arborcision provides Union Power powerful insights into its vegetation management program and shows how it compares to others. The information offers a real-time snapshot that tells where the cooperative is headed and what improvements can be made. Additionally, the SaaS application is updated regularly and has been tested thoroughly in real-life scenarios to ensure maximum functionality and benefit to users.

The insights offered through Arborcision are unprecedented and have helped make a positive impact on the cooperative’s UVM program in a short time. Union Power expects the new tool will guide its UVM decisions for years to come.

Data Shows Progress

According to recent data offered through Arborcision, Union Power is in the 33% range. This indicates the cooperative is performing in an average manner but is moving in the right direction toward additional improvements and greater reliability. Union Power, in a cohort of a half dozen of its peers, is focusing on the right circuits.

Arborcision also notes Union Power’s efficiency savings dividend (ESD), which helps to determine future improvements that can be made to the system by indicating what future costs — in the current cycle — are avoided by trimming a circuit this year rather than deferring until later in the cycle. The ESD already has helped Union Power to be more successful in managing its overall program by offering reliable data that can be presented to the board of directors and others who approve spending.

In a perfect world, once a cyclic program is established, it would merely require a repeat of the pattern over and over ad infinitum. Union Power has learned, time and time again, that the complex adaptive nature of conditions encountered in vegetation management make the projected cycle a moving target. Weather influences have presented the greatest impact to the work that can be scheduled, completed and afforded, and the greatest focus often was a stressful time-consuming and concerted effort to identify the objects that would end up having the least negative impact on system reliability.

Union Power Cooperative, UVM application software

Implementation Yields Value

Union Power now proactively identifies and prioritizes workloads, analyzes costs, enhances system UVM, improves reliability, manages risk and makes more effective decisions. In effect, Arborcision has helped the cooperative to obtain the greatest value for the money spent. For UVM managers who need to request additional funding to keep lines up and vegetation out of the way, it provides supporting data in a visually simplistic manner that identifies areas to target as well as the potential cost of doing nothing at all.

Requiring little upfront work from Union Power, Arborcision maximizes field data collected by ACRT’s expert foresters by analyzing it to build a comprehensive system management plan to enable the cooperative to determine cost drivers and the future state of circuits, as well as the overall system; identify areas at risk of class jumping and their potential costs; develop proactive plans that use accurate quantitative data; evaluate contracting methods and their financial impact; and assess work crews for efficiency and value.

To perform one’s own statistically sound, sampling data-gathering effort could cost tens of thousands of dollars for even a small cooperative, but this would only allow the opportunity to generate a priority list for scheduling and some basic statistical analysis. Arborcision provides tenfold the information and presents it in an easy-to-understand format. It offers concise and clear intelligence that aids in decision-making processes, allowing UVM managers to choose which circuits to focus on and segments to target. At a quick glance, it provides information on steps that can have the most impact on reliability. This helps the UVM managers to work smarter and cooperatives to serve their members better.

Although Union Power has only used its insights and intelligence for less than a year, Arborcision has already proven to be a critical component of the cooperative’s right-of-way management program. The data has been invaluable to decision making, cost analysis and the establishment of targets. The tool is already well established at the cooperative as an integral piece of the ever-changing UVM puzzle.


Wil Ortiz (Wil.Ortiz@union-power.com) is manager of vegetation management for Union Power Cooperative. Ortiz’s duties extend beyond the rights-of-way to maintenance of vegetation around underground equipment and substations, as well as upkeep of cooperative-owned facilities. He has a bachelor’s degree in resources management/forestry from the State University of New York at Syracuse. He also is an active member of the International Society of Arboriculture and the North Carolina Urban Forest Council.

Companies mentioned:

ACRT | www.acrtinc.com

Union Power | www.union-power.com

Sidebar: Arborcision Powers Insight

Utility vegetation management (UVM) is a complex adaptive system that requires complex adaptive solutions. Arborcision arms the UVM manager with drillable intelligence, workload identification and operational insight to manage this complexity. Provided as a software-as-a-service management tool, it uses a statistically representative sample collection and proprietary processes to provide clear, accurate intelligence about a UVM program.

Intelligence for the UVM Program of Tomorrow

Arborcision provides a new way of managing UVM programs. Managers will no longer have to base program management on the past state of the system. Now, the future state of the system is on the screen. Clear, measurable tracking of progress, high-risk circuits and budget needs are just a click away:

• Determine the future state of circuits and overall system

• Identify areas at risk of class jumping and their potential costs

• Gain a comprehensive view of major system cost drivers

• Develop proactive plans that use accurate quantitative data

• Evaluate contracting methods and view their financial impact

• Assess work crews on the system for efficiency and value

• Report forecasted savings with the data to justify decisions

• Determine the system’s ESD to show cost benefits

• Software-as-a-service format means no software to load, just log in.

Union Power Cooperative, UVM application software

Built by Industry Leaders

Arborcision was conceptualized and developed by Richard Jackson, CEO and cofounder of Global ThinkTank Institute, LLC and its Arbor Intelligence subsidiary. It emerged from more than 10 years of collaborative work, research and refinement with ACRT Inc., which was aimed at providing powerful solutions for the utility industry from the people who understand it best.