Keeping the Lights on: The Importance of Right-of-Way Management
Keeping the lights on requires the right equipment and materials and the coordination of many skilled teams. One key component of a healthy distribution system, especially in mountainous terrain, is a solid right-of-way program.
“Investing in a strong right-of-way (ROW) program is necessary to provide reliable electricity to our members,” says SVEC President/CEO Mike Partin. “It is one of the cooperative’s biggest expenses. We spend about $2.5 million a year to keep our right-of-way clear, but in a tree dense area like ours, we have to stay on top of trimming and cutting in order to keep the lights on.”
“Providing safe and reliable electricity to our members is our goal; that is why we do what we do,” says Roy Harver, SVEC senior system arborist. “If an area is not trimmed, a green tree on a live wire can conduct electricity to ground, causing a power outage or, worse, a lifethreatening danger to the public and our workers.”
“We work on a six-year cycle, trimming 2,544 miles of overhead lines out of our total 3,159 miles of distribution lines and 80 miles of transmission lines every six years,” continued Harver. “Our right-of-way is 40 feet, so that means we trim 20 feet on each side of the pole. It’s not always aesthetically pleasing, but it is necessary to keep the lights on.”
Another necessary and often controversial part of keeping the right-of-way clear is spraying herbicides.
“Every March and April, substations are sprayed for postemergent and pre-emergent vegetation,” says Harver. “The year after we trim a circuit, we will spray that circuit to keep vegetation clear then spray again two years later. The herbicides we use for this treatment have been approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Tennessee. Yards, gardens, hay and livestock fields and other maintained areas are not sprayed.”
A few reminders
§ Look up before you plant a tree. Are there power lines within 20 feet? If there are, the tree will probably have to be trimmed in the future.
§ Research the species of trees you plan to plant on your property. How tall will the tree be at maturity? If the mature crown will be within 20 feet of the power lines, it will most likely have to be trimmed or cut in the future.
§ Call 811 before you dig to ensure there are no buried utilities where you intend to dig.
§ Do not plant flowers or shrubs underneath a utility pole or around a padmount transformer (a “green box”). If utility workers need to access the equipment, plantings might slow down restoration of service or present a safety hazard, and your plantings could be damaged.