Government

Line-Clearing Essential for Efficient Power Delivery

Line-Clearing Essential for Efficient Power Delivery

Bill Stephens, Web Editor

December 4th, 2018

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HENDERSON, KY, December 3, 2018– When your community has been recognized as a Tree City USA for 23 years, trees are clearly something cherished and valued as an asset.
But when those trees are planted in locations that impact utility services, liability can quickly outdistance the value.
When that happens, Henderson Municipal Power & Light has no choice but to address the problem.
“We don’t trim trees. We clear power lines,” said Chris Heimgartner, general manager of HMPL
HMPL has just started a major such initiative to clear rear-property power lines in the neighborhood of The Hills and Wolf Hills off Wathen Road. That project is expected is require about a month, depending on weather.
Most property owners are understanding about the need for clearing the lines of tree growth.
Heimgartner outlined the reasons.
The first is public safety.
“If a tree is touching a line, the tree could get energized,” he explained, noting that anyone who unwittingly touched it could become seriously injured or even killed.
A second reason is reliability – keeping the lights on. Limbs and branches in proximity of power lines can be broken in strong winds and result in interruption of service.
Nobody wants to lose their electrical service for any reason, and especially not because of an overgrown limb that could have been managed properly.
A third reason is for tree health. Heimgartner said HMPL uses a trimming method – the Shigo Method named for U.S. Forest Service scientist Dr. Alex L. Shigo and favored by tree specialists — that, when executed properly, can reduce infections in trees that need to be trimmed and even get the trees trained to grow in a more desirable direction.
A fourth reason is for aesthetics. Heimgartner said that customers often request that their trees be rounded off, but that is really unhealthy for the tree and can result in accelerated and undesirable overgrowth. Using the Shigo method, HMPL does not shape or top trees. While customers consider this type of trimming to be less visually attractive, utilities have found this method reduces power outages due to trees dramatically.
The HMPL general manager said the best thing property owners can do is plan before they plant trees.
“We encourage planting the right tree in the right place,” he said, noting that once a tree is planted in the wrong place, such as in the right-of-way right under a power line, it becomes a regular maintenance issue.
“Once it is interfering, we have to trim it and we will,” Heimgartner said, adding that from time to time, with the property owner’s approval, HMPL is forced to remove a tree completely. Starting in 2019 HMPL is planning a trade-a-tree program whereby a specimen of an appropriate tree will be provided to replace the removed tree.
They don’t grind the stumps of the tree that’s removed.
HMPL spends from $500,000-$600,000 each year on that tree maintenance – its third largest expense after power for the utility– to keep our citizens safe and keep the lights on.
Heimgartner said HMPL’s line-clearing contractor has one to two crews working every business day. Trees on the maintenance schedule typically get trimmed on every fourth year. HMPL clears the high voltage electric lines, but not the secondary, low voltage lines running from the main service lines directly to the home or business.
A note from “Pruning Trees Near Electric Utility Lines: A Field Pocket Guide For Qualified Line-Clearance Tree Workers:”
“It would be better for trees, electric lines and customers if trees were not planted near electric lines. This would be a permanent solution. Or, if trees are wanted, only low-growing, compact-form varieties should be planted. When large-maturing trees are planted under the lines, pruning is the only alternative to assure a safe and reliable supply of electric power to all customers.”
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