WHY DID THEY CUT MY TREES? by Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

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Tree trimmers, contracted by electrical utility companies, have been removing trees, branches and vegetation that are too close to power lines. Many homeowners are concerned over this practice.

Sheila Dunning, UF/IFAS Extension Commercial Horticulture Agent in Okaloosa County, offers insight into this practice in today’s article.

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. Minimum clearance of 14 feet between trees and transmission lines in the right-of-way must be maintained to achieve service reliability and public safety.

By Florida Statute 163, an electric utility is granted right-of-way on private property to build and maintain power lines. Vegetation maintenance allows for mowing of vegetation, removal of trees or brush and selective removal of tree branches that extend within the right-of-way by the electric utility personnel, licensed contractors or International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborists. Choices of how to trim trees and manage vegetation growth (e.g. pruning, herbicides, or tree removal) is primarily made by the electric utility, subject to state and local requirements and laws, applicable safety codes and limitations or obligations specified in right-of-way agreements. An individual may contact the utility company to obtain a copy of the right-of-way agreement for their property.

It may appear that excessive vegetation has been removed. But, utility companies are required to maintain appropriate clearance “at all times.” For example, in summer, power lines sag as they expand from warm temperatures and heavy use. Wind and future growth must be considered. Electric utilities may 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 cost businesses and communities tens of billions of dollars annually. 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 blackout prompted Congress to pass the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish the Vegetation Management Reliability Standard.

Should we have a storm that impacts Northwest Florida, remember that the clearing of trees and branches provides faster access for first responders, line repair crews and other emergency service personnel. So, as you watch the preparation work being done, think about where you plant trees so that they can reach full maturity without threatening power lines, therefore, not requiring “ugly pruning!”

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