Local electric companies take care to avoid tree limbs making contact with power lines

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Sept. 27, 2011 at 4:27 a.m.

Local electric companies have long been aware of the dangers of tree limbs hanging too close to power lines.

"It's a full-time effort for us as a power company to maintain a reasonable distance between trees and the power lines," Elgin Janssen, the community affairs manager for American Electric Power, said. "Trees are not friendly to power lines."

Officials claim poor tree line management by Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative is to blame for the wildfire that burned thousands of acres, destroying 1,500 homes and killing two people in Bastrop this month.

Tree management is an ongoing battle, Janssen said. AEP has trouble with trees whether it's an extremely wet or dry year.

AEP employs various tree management companies to make sure tree limbs stay clear of their lines. The company also uses their own people to do emergency tree trimming to clear power lines, he said.

"Our programs are planned ahead of time and they're timed to keep the lines cleared," he said.

The Victoria Electric Cooperative got a reminder of how important it was to keep their lines clear after Hurricane Claudette swept through the Crossroads area in 2006, General Manager Blaine Warzecha said.

The company has a right-of-way superintendent who goes through the entire system making sure tree limbs stay 10 feet away from the power lines.

"We've been focusing on that for the past several years, since that was an issue we experienced with Hurricane Claudette," Warzecha said.

Sometimes the owners of the trees protest having their trees trimmed back, Warzecha said, but most people understand that it's a necessary practice.

Guadalupe Valley Electric Company also has a right-of-way maintenance plan that they work on year-round. The GVEC employs 12 contract crews clearing tree limbs along with their own in-house crews, Lindsey Durrett, corporate services division manager, said.

Right-of-way maintenance is important to the overall endurance of the system, preventing outages and for safety, Durrett said.

The maintenance is a constant struggle for any utility company, Durrett said, especially if they are covering large rural areas.

"There's so much land we cover, but it's something we try to stay focused on during times like this. It's important we have those plans in place to keep things like the Bastrop fires from happening," Durrett said.



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