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TVA clearing trees near transmission lines

Madison Mathews • Mar 5, 2012 at 8:50 AM

In 2003, a widespread blackout across the Northeast left about 50 million people in the dark. At least 11 deaths were attributed to the August blackout, and about $6 billion in economic losses were reported by both the United States and Canada.

A tree that had touched a transmission line was discovered to be the initiating cause of the power outage.

In order to help keep power outages of that magnitude from occurring, the Tennessee Valley Authority is in the midst of a massive widening initiative in which the agency is removing all trees with a mature height of 15 feet or more within its purchased easements.

Following new regulations regarding trees and other vegetation near transmission lines that were implemented by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation in 2007, the TVA has worked to clear its more than 2,500 miles of transmission lines throughout the system, which serves seven states across the Southeast.

“We have been working in bits and pieces on it since 2007, but we really went full-force into this initiative about a year and a half ago,” said Jason Regg, a line applied service manager with the TVA.

Regionally, the TVA has been hard at work clearing areas where trees could pose a danger. Just last week, crews were removing trees in Jonesborough.

The TVA’s new policy means that the agency can remove trees from the land of property owners if the trees are within the 200-foot-wide easement. The TVA used to clear trees, leaving a 25-foot “buffer zone” on each side of the easement, but with the new NERC standards, the agency can be held responsible if a tree within that zone were to fall on the lines.

The TVA can be fined $1 million for each day the tree is allowed to stay within that boundary, according to the new policy.

“We have started this widening initiative on all our transmission system … to remove those threats, to remove that buffer zone, essentially reclaiming the full width of the easement,” Regg said.

The only vegetation that would then be allowed within the easement are trees and other vegetation shorter than 15 feet.

Since the vegetation maintenance began, Regg said there has been some confusion among property owners when crews show up to begin removal within the boundaries of the easement.

“When we bought the easement rights, we bought the rights to maintain that transmission and remove the trees or vegetation underneath it,” he said. “It’s a reliability issue and a safety issue.”

That’s why the agency has tried to notify property owners when tree removal is necessary.

“We’re doing everything we can to try to get the word out to property owners that this would affect and let them know the reasons we’re doing this and why and what it means to them personally on their property,” he said.

While the agency is not required to notify before removal, the TVA attempts to give notification at least two weeks in advance.

WIth the new policy, the TVA will also no longer allow the property owner to trim their own trees within the easement’s right-of-way.

In terms of maintenance, Regg said this is one of the largest projects TVA has done.

The average cost associated with tree removal ranges from about $10,000 to $12,000 per mile.

Given the wide reach of the TVA, Regg said the agency hopes to complete the project within the next four or five years.

For more on the TVA’s vegetation management project, including standards for property owners, visit TVA.org or call the Gray office at 467-3870.

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