Right-of-way maintenance a major line item

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right of way

 

In my August report to you, I tackled the issue of overhead power lines versus underground cable. The purpose of this month’s article isn’t to cover some of the same “ground.” Instead, I want to address the challenge of service reliability as it relates to the thousands of miles of overhead facilities on the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative system.

Those poles and wires cross a service territory that’s largely mountainous and rural. Each of these two features represents a test to our mission of delivering dependable electricity. On top of that, the five counties we serve are heavily wooded. That’s important because an estimated 99% of the cooperative’s outages are caused by either trees or tree limbs coming into contact with energized power lines. Most often, those trees are outside the boundaries of our right-of-way corridor.

Now, I count myself among those folks who truly love trees. The many varied tree species that grow here add so much to the scenic beauty that characterizes our Upstate region. Local residents and visitors alike find they enjoy the loveliness, tranquility and other attributes that our abundant forested areas have to offer.

An inescapable reality

There is, however, another side to that coin. In the electric-distribution business, we’re faced with an inescapable reality: Trees and power lines simply do not mix. The right-of-way that’s home to the cooperative’s 7,100 miles of power lines has to be cleared of trees and other undergrowth on a regular cycle. Otherwise, virtually all 69,000 Blue Ridge members would be plagued with unrelentingly poor service. What’s more, our crews would spend so much of their time chasing outages that their other responsibilities would be compromised.

Consequently, right-of-way maintenance is a major line item in the cooperative’s annual budget. At any one time, we have multiple crews at work on our system. A good portion of this vegetation management is accomplished utilizing mechanical means. This involves personnel operating bush-hogs and chainsaws and using bush axes.

Licensed, professional workers

For a couple of decades now, Blue Ridge also has employed two types of herbicides to control tree and other plant growth within portions of the right-of-way. Our experience with both herbicides has been satisfactory. The cooperative’s licensed, professional workers apply the doctor-approved herbicides only during the growing season. These individuals are extra careful to avoid herbicide contact with any fruit trees, crops or ornamental plants located on a member’s property. In addition, these applications have proven to be harmless to both livestock and animals in the wild. Bottom line: We have tried-and-true confidence in the safety of these herbicide treatments. In similar fashion, other utilities, as well as agencies such as the South Carolina Department of Transportation, also use herbicides.

Our desire to provide quality service to our members drives essentially everything we do as representatives of your Blue Ridge organization. The cooperative’s vegetation-maintenance program is a critical component of those efforts.

 

JIM LOVINGGOOD

President and CEO