Vegetation management keeps the lights on

Image of tree trimming around power linesHeartland members have their electricity delivered to their homes and workplaces through a system of interconnected overhead power lines. Nearly 80,000 poles and 3800 miles of wire is used to serve all of our customers in parts of 12 counties.
When electric service is interrupted during wind and lighting storms, or due to heavy rain, snow or ice, the problem can usually be traced to trees or tree limbs that fall, breaking lines or causing short circuits.
Storm-related damage to trees is the number two cause of power outages for Heartland members. (Lightning is the number one cause of outages.) Interruptions are a nuisance to residents; a greater threat is posed when power is cut off to hospitals, fire and police stations, radio and television stations, newspapers, pumping stations, traffic lights and other essential public services. Some of our customers depend upon continuous, reliable supply of electrical power to operate life-support apparatus in their homes. In addition, trees that grow into contact with power lines can conduct electricity, which can create a hazard to people and property.
The best way to defend against these potential hazards is with a dedicated and thorough program of tree clearing and trimming, performed on a regular basis. Heartland’s program is carefully designed to reduce the incidents of power outages due to tree damage, while also protecting the natural and scenic beauty of Southeast Kansas.
The key to minimizing power disruptions caused by trees is to clear unwanted trees, branches, and brush in the 30-foot-wide right-of-way corridor. That means trimming and removing branches growing within 15 feet of powerlines.
Heartland employs an aggressive vegetation management program to clear this right-of-way area.
First, Heartland employs area contractors to trim unwanted vegetation, including shrubs, trees, and branches from the areas near powerlines. In some places, very little trimming is needed, while significant work may be necessary in other places. The trees trimmed may be growing wild, or they may have been planted intentionally, but have grown too big for the area.
Heartland’s tree-trimming program is carefully planned to cover the co-op’s entire system every few years. Unfortunately, such a labor-intensive program is expensive. Heartland spends more than $350,000 on tree trimming each year.
Another vegetation management method used by Heartland is the careful spraying of herbicide on unwanted plants in the co-op’s right-of-way area around powerlines. Heartland members may see these crews in Southeast Kansas in the spring and summer, walking in the ditches and under powerlines with herbicide-filled backpacks and hand-held sprayers. Heartland has found this method to be more cost-effective. About $90,000 is spent on this program annually.
While vegetation management can appear to be expensive, it is money well spent to avoid storm damage and lengthy power outages.
One key way to keep trees and other vegetation from causing outages is for all of Heartland members to be careful when planting trees. Homeowners should avoid planting underneath powerlines, and within the 30-foot-wide utility right-of-way area. And plan ahead and consider how that tree will look when it’s fully-grown. When selecting a tree or shrub to plant, it is just as important to consider what you plant as it is where you plant.
Kansas  has  a  wide  variety  of  low-growing  trees  that  can  be  planted near power lines. As a rule, trees planted near power lines should have a mature height of less than 25 feet. Taller growing trees must be planted further away to prevent future problems. Homeowners should evaluate their trees near power lines and help ensure the trees are maintained to acceptable height.  
The right tree or shrub, planted in the right place, can give you years of beauty and value without the potential dangers of getting too close to power lines.
Before you plant, it is important to know what the tree will look like as it nears maturity. Consider its height, crown spread, and root space. Plant the right tree in the right place.
Tree placement in relation to overhead power lines is critical in order to preserve the natural size, shape and overall integrity of the tree and protect the intent for which it was planted.