IURC Tree Trimming Order (Part 1)

On November 30, 2010, the IURC issued its 111 page tree trimming order in cause number 43663. Some of the mandates of the Order apply to all regulated utilities, including the regulated REMCs and other portions which are referred to a rule making do not apply directly. It is clear from the Order that the Commission carefully considered the testimony presented by the REMCs and for the most part agreed with what you said. Even though these provisions do not apply directly to the unregulated REMCs, they are likely to become the de facto standard that many members will expect the unregulated REMCs to meet. Here are the highlights:

• The request to ban various types of cuts was rejected (page 97)

• Regulated utilities (including regulated REMCs) must follow ANSI A300, NESC, the Shigo Guide, and ISA Best Management Practices in the conduct of their vegetation management absent one of the following: consent by the property owner, during an emergency, in the interest of safety, or in the interest of preserving the life of the tree.

• If existing easements or rights of way are insufficient, utilities either need to obtain such additional easements as necessary from the property owner, or obtain the consent of the property owner prior to trimming vegetation outside of the easement or right of way.

• If a tree would have more than 25% of its canopy removed, the utility must obtain consent from the property owner. If a property owner does not consent, and the owner and the utility are unable to mutually agree on how the tree can be trimmed to provide sufficient clearance in order to maintain reliable electric service, the utility shall consider removing the tree, at the utility’s expense, as long as it has secured the requisite easements to allow its personnel onto the owner’s property, or inform the customer that it will need to make non-ANSI standard cuts in order to provide clearance. [tree replacement regulations will be developed in a rule making in which the REMCs are not required to participate]

• Standardized trimming cycles are not required.

• There is no reason for prescribing any additional, uniform, statewide vegetation management standards.

• A utility should provide notice to a customer in person or over the phone, and at least one form of written notice to the customer. These initial notices should occur at least two weeks before the trimming. [Specific notice regulations will be developed in a rule making in which the REMCs are not required to participate]

• Dispute resolution procedures for investor owned utilities will be developed in the rule making.

• Utilities should notify property owners of line upgrades. The detail of the notice will be developed in the rule making.

• Debris associated with routine maintenance should be removed in a timely manner (usually within three calendar days). Storm related debris removal is the responsibility of the property owner.

• The Commission declined to require underground service.

• Utilities are not required to allow landowners to self-trim trees.

• The Commission requires an annual report (by March 31) setting out vegetation management annual budget and annual expenditures in the prior calendar year, the number of customer complaints related to tree-trimming, the manner the complaints were addressed, the tree-related outages as a percentage of total outages; and their vegetation management plan along with any changes to such plan going forward.

• Customer education is to be addressed in the rulemaking.

• Regulated and unregulated REMCs are invited, but required, to participate in the rulemaking process.

(Part 1 of 4. Part 2 will be posted on 1/6/11. Order will be attached to Part 4.)

The statements contained herein are for information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice and should not be construed to form an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions regarding this article, please contact an attorney.