Right-of-way crews clear the way for reliable power
When Brandon Evans first took over as right-of-way foreman about five years ago, North Alabama Electric Cooperative (NAEC) had just changed its approach to tree trimming. For the last few years, he had worked on the crew trimming back the vegetation around electric lines by the hour. It wasn’t working.
“We weren’t accomplishing anything; we were just surviving,” Evans says. “Then, we started trimming by the mile, and if crews didn’t trim the way they should, they didn’t get paid. It made a world of difference.”
These days, Evans estimates NAEC’s two four-man contract crews that trim by the mile can each clear around 10 miles per month. Their work frees up a third crew to focus on hot spots around the system, where they can cut down a tree threatening to fall on electric equipment or deal with a section of line experiencing frequent outages.
Along with the cooperative’s two in-house right-of-way crew members, including Evans, NAEC works on a four-year cycle for trimming and a five-year cycle for mowing to cover the entire system. In between those five-year mowing cycles, the crews also spray to keep vegetation growth to a minimum.
“That’s why it’s so crucial for us to maintain the right-of-way,” says Evans. “The member has to realize when we’re trimming we may not be back through there for a few years because we’re on a schedule.”
Making a Difference
Evans understands that some members may not be happy to see his crews come around. Not every member wants their trees trimmed, and, in some cases, they may not need it. Those with backup generators might not be inconvenienced by an electric line to their home going down periodically. But it is important for members to keep in mind that they may not be the only ones affected.
“They might not mind if their power goes out, but what if they have a neighbor down the road who is on oxygen?” says Evans. “She needs her power. Some folks have to have it to survive, and then it becomes an issue.”
In some cases where trees have needed to be cut down entirely, NAEC has replaced them by planting new trees away from electric lines. After all, the right-of-way team’s ultimate goal is to improve the reliability of members’ service, not mess with their landscaping.
“We’re not cutting to harm them or damage their property,” says Evans. “We’re here for the member, so when that storm comes, maybe they have power all night instead of having a tree or a limb knock it out.”
A Smart Investment
Clearing right-of-way pays off by:
- Improving the reliability of electric service
- Keeping electric rates low for members
- Protecting members who rely on medical equipment
A Cut Above
Who turned out the lights?
Some of the most common causes of electric outages include:
- Falling trees and limbs
- Wildlife contacting power lines
- High-speed winds
- Vehicle collisions
Clear the way
NAEC clears growth 15 feet from each side of an active power line, resulting in:
- 30 feet of space around active, single-phase poles
- 38 feet of space around active, three-phase poles
Maintain a ‘safe zone’ when planting trees
- Maintenance Zone — No vines, shrubs or trees should be planted within 10 feet of the farthest point on a utility pole.
- Low Zone — 10-20 feet or farther from the Maintenance Zone. Examples: Redbud, Dogwood.
- Medium Zone — 20-50 feet or farther from the Maintenance Zone. Examples: Holly, Ornamental Cherry.
- Tall Zone — 50 feet farther from the Maintenance Zone. Examples: Maple, Spruce, Oak, Pine.