With hurricane season upon us, evidence of preparation surrounds us. Tree trimmers contracted by local electrical utility companies have been removing trees, branches and other vegetation "too close" to power lines, which has concerned many homeowners.
To prevent power outages, the federally approved Vegetation Management Reliability Standard, FAC-033-2, requires utilities to manage vegetation growth along the path of power lines to prevent contact. A minimum clearance of 14 feet between trees and transmission lines in the right-of-way must be maintained at all times to achieve service reliability and public safety.
Florida Statute 163 grants an electric utility an easement or right-of-way on private property to build and maintain electric power lines. Vegetation maintenance allows for mowing vegetation within the right-of-way, removal of trees or brush within the right-of-way and selective removal of tree branches extending within the right-of-way by the electric utility personnel, licensed contractors or International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborists.
The choice of how to trim trees and manage vegetation growth near a power line — by pruning, herbicides or tree removal, for example — is primarily made by the electric utility, subject to state and local requirements and laws, applicable safety codes and any limitations or obligations specified in right-of-way agreements.
An individual may contact the utility company to obtain a copy of his or property’s right-of-way agreement.
Sometimes, it appears that excessive vegetation has been removed. Remember, utility companies must maintain the appropriate clearance "at all times."
For example, power lines sag in the summer as they expand from rising air temperatures and heavy use. In addition, wind and future growth must be considered when determining where to prune. Electric utilities usually prune or remove vegetation to a distance greater than the minimum clearances to account for these factors.
Tree trimming around power lines may seem like a local issue, but vegetation growth also affects interstate transmission lines.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that electric utility service interruptions annually cost businesses and communities tens of billions of dollars. Tree contact with transmission lines was the leading cause of the August 2003 blackout that affected 50 million people in the Northeastern United States and Canada.
That particular blackout prompted Congress to pass the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which led the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish the Vegetation Management Reliability Standard.
If Northwest Florida experiences a storm, remember that tree and branch clearing provides faster access for first responders, line repair crews and other emergency service personnel.
As you watch preparation work in progress, think about where you will plant a tree. Ensure it can reach full maturity without threatening power lines — which would require "ugly pruning."
Sheila Dunning is a Commercial Horticulture Extension agent at the Okaloosa County Extension office in Crestview.