The New York State Public Service Commission is urging the utilities it regulates to live up to agreements and aggressively pursue tree-trimming and vegetation management practices to help reduce the likelihood that customers lose electricity after a major ice, snow, rain or wind storm.
“We require utilities to file vegetation management plans annually, and we just want to make people aware how important that is,” PSC spokeswoman Anne Dalton said. “Tree trimming is a very important activity. Oftentimes during a storm, trees that overhang into a utility’s right-of-way, or even if they are growing outside of the right-of-way, can encroach and then fall into the right-of-way, thereby causing the potential for an outage.”
During last week’s ice storm, downed trees throughout the Capital Region contributed to the loss of power for an estimated 300,000 homes and businesses.
According to the PSC, its approval of the merger of National Grid and KeySpan included the adoption of a proposal by National Grid to commit to spending approximately $1.4 billion over a five-year period to improve transmission and distribution reliability, which included tree-trimming management and environmental maintenance. The PSC said not every utility has lived up to its tree-trimming obligations and singled out New York State Electric and Gas, known as NYSEG, for decreasing its tree-trimming expenditures over the past five years.
“Major disturbances in electric service can result from fallen tree limbs and overgrown vegetation coming in contact with transmission and distribution lines during storms,” said commission Chairman Garry Brown. “In New York, reliable power delivery depends upon the competent maintenance and operation by utilities of more than 15,000 miles of electric transmission lines and some 200,000 miles of distribution lines.”
According to a National Grid pamphlet titled “Trees and Your Electric Service,” National Grid does not perform tree trimming outside of a set schedule of five to seven years, but will remove large damaged tree limbs from a customer’s wires upon request.
The New York Consumer Protection Board has announced it will be reviewing utility response to concerns relating to tree trimming and vegetation management procedures.
“Consumers must be assured that the major utilities are meeting their responsibility to trim trees both before and after storms to prevent lengthy outages and as part of general infrastructure maintenance,” said Mindy A. Bockstein, CPB chairwoman and executive director. “With significant money set aside by utilities for this purpose, and with consumers bearing this cost in their utility rates, we will be looking at post ice-storm reports to be filed by National Grid, Central Hudson and NYSEG with a keen eye.”
Dalton said utilities are required to file assessments of the storm within 60 days, after which the PSC will conduct a review of their performance. She said electricity customers are likely seeing a lot of tree-trimming companies operating in their neighborhoods, and the PSC wants the public to know why.
“They’ve hired outside crews and things of that sort. The trucks don’t always say National Grid,” she said.