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Vegetation Management & Electric Distribution Systems

Electric distribution and transmission lines near trees and vegetation
Vegetation management programs help keep trees and plants away from electric distribution and transmission systems.

Electric distribution and transmission systems rely on miles and miles of power lines stretching nationwide. One important part of ongoing maintenance and operations for electric utilities is vegetation management. Fallen trees and other vegetation issues account for more than 20% of power outages according to one 2019 survey. Having a vegetation management plan in place can help protect your assets in many ways. In this article, we’ll discuss why vegetation management is essential for utility companies and some ways the face of vegetation management (VM) is changing with modern technologies.

Why is Vegetation Important for Electric Distribution?

First, it’s important to define vegetation management. Vegetation management for electric transmission and distribution companies involves controlling nearby trees and plants that could pose risks to utility assets and services. There are several different components of vegetation management for utility companies, including tree trimming, vegetation removal, and the use of herbicides to help control plant growth near utility assets and corridors. Vegetation management (VM) programs may work to achieve many different objectives for utility companies. 

Public and Personnel Safety

First and foremost, safety is an important reason to take part in an optimized vegetation management program for your utility company. Vegetation can pose safety hazards to utility personnel as well as the public at large. Outages from fallen trees can leave critical facilities, like hospitals, 911 call centers, etc. without power, which can create safety hazards for the public. Electricity interruption can also negatively impact safety for individual customers, potentially exposing them to extreme temperatures and other difficulties. 

Another potential safety hazard of poor VM strategies is the risk of fires. Overgrown vegetation near electric distribution and transmission lines can increase the risk of fires, including devastating wildfires that threaten human life and delicate ecosystems. 

Electric Distribution Service Continuity

In addition to improving safety for all, VM programs can also help reduce risks of service interruption. Trees are some of the biggest risks to service continuity for the electric utility industry. Even healthy trees can fall onto power lines and cause power outages. This, in turn, can leave both shareholders and customers dissatisfied and with little confidence in utility service. 

Service interruption also results in lost revenue until power is restored to your customers. One fallen tree can cost your company a fortune by depriving you of billable electricity use. Keeping electricity flowing is one of the main goals of any utility company, and a well-designed VM program can help with this objective.

Regulatory Compliance

Also, many regulatory agencies have stepped in to enforce vegetation management for utility companies. Failure to comply with these regulations can lead to fines and other legal consequences. 

When it comes to high-voltage transmission lines, regulations from federal, state, and local agencies may apply. For instance, federal regulations are generally created by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and enforced by the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission (FERC). These regulations include rules for vegetation management and vegetation clearances around high-voltage lines and assets. VM for lower voltage assets like distribution lines are typically subject to state and local regulations only. 

Therefore, to avoid fines and other legal consequences, your utility company needs a VM program that meets all applicable standards. 


We mentioned this briefly, but problems caused by a lack of vegetation management can also hurt your bottom line. While it’s true that VM typically accounts for the majority of operations and maintenance costs each year for electric utility companies, cutting corners here can lead to several more severe consequences for revenue. We mentioned that outages mean lost revenue from your customers. However, there are some other costs to take into account. 

Should vegetation cause service interruption, typically this means sending out emergency crews to clear the area and repair the damage. While our team at TechServ offers unparalleled efficiency for storm damage assessment and repair oversight, most of us will agree that electric utility companies should minimize how often you need these services. VM programs can help reduce the risks of fallen trees during storms. 

In addition, improper vegetation management can even open your company up to liabilities. For example, your utility company could be liable for damage from wildfires caused by power lines. As we mentioned, good vegetation management strategies can help reduce fire risks and, by extension, risks for liability from power line-induced fires.

New Innovations for Vegetation Management for Electric Transmission and Distribution Utilities

Electric distribution vegetation management strategies are critical for keeping systems online. VM programs aren’t new, but some innovations may make them easier and more efficient. Whether you choose traditional or more modern options for your vegetation management program, it’s important to consider the risks versus the benefits of your strategies.

Traditional Vegetation Management for Electric Distribution Utilities

Traditional VM programs are typically completely manual. They include sending out crews to inspect vegetation around electricity lines. Personnel then identify which trees need trimming, which plants and trees need removal, and where herbicide needs to be applied to help control grasses and smaller vegetation like brush and bushes. These plans are then either accepted or rejected and the utility company sends out a work order for vegetation control services. They keep detailed records to provide historical data, which informs the trim cycle. Trim cycles vary based on many different factors, but the utility company may perform these audits and services once every one to five years for each mile of electric transmission and distribution assets owned.

Modern Updates to VM Programs

Some more tech-based approaches to vegetation management are becoming popular with some utility companies. These typically use software to help predict and optimize VM cycles. For instance, companies might input information about climate, vegetation species, and other information. The software then uses that data to calculate optimized trim cycles.

In addition, some companies are even installing cameras to get real-time data on vegetation. These are often less cost- and labor-intensive than sending out audit crews to inspect assets and determine VM needs. This option may work best for companies with a large number of assets to operate and maintain stretched over large geographic areas.

TechServ – Your Partner for Transmission & Distribution Oversight Services

Our specialists at TechServ offer high-quality technical services for the T&D industry. Whether you need transmission and distribution oversight services for upgrades and new construction projects or you require electric distribution system design and engineering, we offer solutions for you. We are here to help you improve reliability, efficiency, and performance for telecom and electric utilities. Contact us now at  (903) 509-8183 to learn more.

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