Clearer rights of way improving electric reliability for power customers

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About three years into a new method of managing vegetation, Appalachian Power is seeing improved reliability, and customers are noticing.

“Customers are commenting about seeing our tree trimmers across the state, and now that we’ve made substantial progress, they are noticing the difference in the way our rights of way look and how reliable their service is,” said Phil Wright, Appalachian Power distribution operations vice president.

“Trees and other vegetation are the Number 1 cause of power outages,” he said. “Keeping our rights of way in the best possible shape has a big effect on our overall reliability. Not only are outages reduced, but a side benefit is our improved ability to access our equipment, which can shorten the length of outages we do have.”

Starting in mid-2014, Appalachian Power began transitioning to a cycle-trimming program to manage trees and other vegetation. The program calls for a six-year phase-in period in which all of the company’s West Virginia distribution circuits are cleared end-to-end, after which every circuit will be trimmed on a four-year cycle.

Tree crews have completed 200 of more than 500 circuits in the state. That’s more than 11,000 miles of distribution and transmission lines. Generally, those circuits with the worst vegetation-related performance were scheduled to be addressed in the earlier years of the program.

Reliability results are significant, Wright said. On those circuits that are completely trimmed, the number of vegetation-related outages is down 39 percent. Plus, the frequency of outages is down 45 percent, and the length of outages is down 46 percent.

Vegetation management work includes pruning trees, identifying and removing danger trees, applying herbicides, mowing and hand-clearing brush, and widening rights of way.

Contractors perform most of the clearing and herbicide spraying, with Appalachian Power foresters supervising the work. Appalachian Power contractors include Asplundh Tree Expert, Townsend Tree Service, Wright Tree Service, Edko, Nelson Tree Service, Davey Tree Expert Co., Aerial Solutions and Industrial Helicopters.

Wright says the company expects to clear another 4,000-plus miles of distribution and transmission rights of way in 2017.