Clearing for Reliability: A ‘Members First’ Approach
July 31st, 2018 by Todd Schroeder, General Manager/CEO
A right of way (ROW) refers to a strip of land underneath or around power lines that your electric cooperative has the right and responsibility to maintain and clear. Macon Electric Cooperative works hard to ensure that our rights of way are regularly cleared of trees and brush in order to help reduce potential outages and hazards. Trees and branches growing in or near power lines can cause interruptions in your electric service and uncontrolled brush can impede access to utility structures. Specifications can vary, but a general guideline for maintaining a safe ROW is 15 feet of clearance on either side of the primary conductors and 15 feet of overhead clearance above the highest wire on the pole.
Clearing the ROW is critical to keeping our members’ lights on. An average of 25 percent of power interruptions occur when trees grow too close to power lines. If a tree encroaches on this safe distance, our lineman or contractors will trim back branches and brush using chainsaws, bucket trucks, tree climbers, brush chippers, and mowers. In some cases, it is necessary to remove a tree altogether.
ROW clearing also keeps your family safe by ensuring that tree branches do not become energized due to close contact with a power line. An energized tree branch due to close proximity or contact with a power line is incredibly dangerous, even deadly. Be mindful when around trees close to power lines, and make sure your children know that climbing trees near power lines is extremely dangerous.
Another benefit to ROW clearing is that it can decrease outage restoration time. When weather strikes, every minute spent clearing a tree or branch off of a power line equals a minute in delay of restoring your power. While winds can blow downed trees into power lines, it’s often those trees that were left near the power line that cause the most damage. In addition, that damage has an economic impact on the cooperative, which in turn could affect your electric rates.
In 2016, Macon Electric Cooperative started a vegetation management plan and began budgeting each year for contracting services to clear the lines associated with each of our substations from start to finish. In 2017, the Lentner, Clarence, and Cairo substations were cleared. In 2018, we are working on the Macon, Axtell, and Bevier substations. MEC has contracted both Tom’s Tree Service and T&T Tree Service to complete our tree trimming this year.
In order to meet the requirements of substation clearing and ROW spraying, MEC has invested $1.4 million annually. While this is a significant investment, it is necessary to provide safe and reliable electric service to our members. After a five year cycle, the cooperative should see a financial benefit from the efforts, as well as the added benefit of mitigating safety risks and decreasing outage numbers.
In addition to ROW clearing, MEC also provides a tree replacement program. When a member allows the cooperative to eliminate a yard tree that is interfering with power lines, we will reimburse the member up to $100 for the purchase of a new tree, with a maximum of $500 per location. The member can choose from 12 species of trees to be planted in a safe and efficient location. To learn more about our ROW clearing and tree replacement programs, visit www.maconelectric.com/row-tree-replacement.
Not all outages can be prevented, but investing in vegetation management has both immediate and long term benefits. By prioritizing our ROW management programs, MEC is investing in safety, outage reduction, rate stabilization, and increased reliability. These programs were designed with the same ‘members first’ mentality that we strive to provide in everything we do here at Macon Electric Cooperative. As always, if you have questions or concerns, feel free to reach out to us at (660) 385-3157.