IURC Tree Trimming Order (Part 3)

When discussing standard clearances, the Commission stated: “Simply put, a “one-size-fits-all” approach is not appropriate. Furthermore, the record demonstrates that there already are nationally recognized industry standards and best practice vegetation management standards and practices for tree trimming which the Respondents follow. …The record also establishes that the adoption of a uniform statewide minimum clearance distance would increase costs and threaten reliability. … Line clearances should continue to take into consideration the characteristics of the locality, the electric facility and the health of the tree, along with the other pertinent factors identified by Respondents. However, it is imperative that the utilities actually consider and apply these factors in determining the appropriate clearance for a given tree or line. The record is replete with customer complaints that strong, healthy, mature trees were trimmed as aggressively as trees posing bigger risks to reliability. …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. Second, as noted above, the ANSI standard leaves substantial judgment in the hands of the utility in determining how a tree will be trimmed. We find that 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. 13 To the extent removal is required, the rulemaking discussed below in Paragraph 7(D) will also address a tree replacement program.” (pages 99-100)

“…we find that there is no need at this time to standardize trimming cycles throughout Indiana. However, the trimming cycle that a utility chooses to implement should be better explained to ratepayers to increase the understanding about how the chosen trim cycle impacts clearance distance and the extent to which a tree’s appearance will be impacted based upon that chosen cycle.” (page 100)

“We find that the existing industry clearance standards are reasonable, and there is no reason for prescribing any additional, uniform, statewide vegetation management standards. We also find that because of multiple differences in topography, seasonal conditions and accompanying growth patterns of different species of trees, application of additional standards in these areas is not practicable or appropriate. Accordingly, we find there is no need to assemble a panel of outside experts to establish necessary safety clearances for all lines up to 200 kV.” (page 101)

“We agree that the OUCC’s notice recommendations are overly prescriptive and go beyond what is often done in the industry and what is needed. … In order to provide customers fair notice and provide them the opportunity to ask questions and understand the importance of cooperation with tree trimming, we find that 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 is estimated to occur. We further find that notices shall provide the customers with the appropriate contact information. … We also find that in those instances when a customer inquires when trimming is expected to occur on their property, the utility or its representative should explain that a specific time cannot be guaranteed but should give its best estimate. If the customer requests a more specific time, the supervisor shall endeavor to work with the customer to give a precise time. In that manner, those customers who want to be present during tree trimming will be given appropriate notice and a reasonable opportunity to do so in order to address any issues (on site if necessary) with personnel from the utility. While these general notice requirements should be implemented within 30 days of the date of this Order, specifics for these types of contacts will be addressed through the rulemaking discussed in Paragraph 7(D), below.” (pages 101-102)

(Part 3 of 4. Part 4 will be posted on 1/13/11. 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.