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Right Tree, Right Place: Utility Vegetation Management

By: Karen McCarthy, Consumer's Energy

Whether it be spring, summer, winter or fall, one of Michigan’s most beautiful assets is its trees. Except, of course, when those trees are whipped around by storm winds or weighed down by ice and cause power outages.

“Trees are involved in about a third of electric power interruptions,” said Christopher Niemi, Manager of Forestry Operations for Consumers Energy. “We work year round to prevent these outages and provide safe, reliable service to our customers. Statewide, Consumers Energy plans to trim and remove trees under and near 6300 miles of power lines in 2014.”

Consumers Energy recently began trimming and removing trees in Grand Rapids as part of this year’s effort to reduce outages. Crews from Trees, Inc., are working this year in the City.

Prior to beginning work, each Consumers Energy customer is sent a postcard announcing the arrival of a Forestry Planner for distribution lines. This utility employee visits each property where tree work is necessary to explain the required work. Door cards are left at homes when no one is home with a toll-free number to contact the planner. The planner then marks trees slated for trimming with a blue dot, and those scheduled for removal with a blue “X.”

“We work very hard not to surprise our customers in the communities we serve,” said Dale Thompson, Consumers Energy’s Senior System Forester in West Michigan. “We work with our customers to achieve necessary clearance and to establish clear expectations about the results of the work.

“We also work with the City and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks on vegetation management projects. We are aware of the City’s ordinance on tree trimming and work to meet its requirements.”

Contractors working for the utility to trim and remove trees are line clearance certified to work around energized electric wires. They use pruning methods consistent with International Society of Arboriculture and American National Standards Institute requirements to trim trees away from lines.

“Sometimes it’s best to remove a tree rather than trim it,” said Thompson. “But if a property owner insists that a tree remain against our advice, we will trim it if we can attain our goal for safety and reliability.”

Trees are targeted for trimming or removal based on their species, size, health and location in relation to overhead electric lines. Fast growing tall species, like box elder and willow, are typically slated for removal. Slower growing hardwood species, like oak, can often be trimmed.

“Any tall growing species planted or growing near electric lines will generally not reach its full beauty because of the threat it poses to delivering safe, reliable service,” said Thompson.

Across the State, Consumers Energy utilizes five major contractors, employing more than 600 Michigan residents.

“We use large contracting companies that have the resources and equipment to do the work required here in Michigan,” said Niemi. “These contractors hire Michigan residents to do the work.”

Maintaining more than 50,000 miles of lines in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is a challenge that is made even more difficult by those who plant tall growing species near and underneath power lines.

“Planting the right tree in the right place makes sense for property owners and Consumers Energy when it comes to providing electric service to our customers,” said Niemi. “There are tree species that will not grow tall enough to threaten lines. Property owners can get more information on planting the right tree in the right place at the website of the National Arbor Day Foundation, www.arborday.org.”

 

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