Fall Foliage, Ovando, Montana

In The Clear

Posted: May 1, 2021
Mark Hayden, GM

The Co-Op’s Approach To Vegetation Management

In our service territory, there is certainly no shortage of rugged terrain, abundant wildlife and thick vegetation. As a rural electric cooperative, we must remain committed to a healthy balance of nature, safety and reliability. One of the most important tools we have to maintain this balance is an effective right-of-way (ROW) vegetation management program; a program that requires the understanding and cooperation of all members to be truly successful.

When we use the term right-of-way (ROW), we are referring to land we access to construct, maintain, replace or repair underground and overhead power lines. This space provides our crews with clearance from trees and/or other obstructions that might hinder power line installation, operation or routine maintenance. ROW may be located on public or private land, and are necessary for crews to connect homes and businesses to the electric grid. Regardless of location, crews must be able to safely access our power lines whether they are above, or below, the ROW. MEC’s ROW Clearance Program benefits members in three distinct ways.

Reliability
With nearly 1,050 miles of overhead distribution lines to maintain, trees and vegetation continue to be the primary cause of service interruptions. In 2018, MEC modified our existing ROW Clearance Program to shorten the frequency between routine maintenance. The immediate goal of the program was to visually inspect and clear vegetation and hazardous trees in, and adjacent to, our rights-of-way, on an aggressive two-year cycle. By allowing crews to trim or remove hazardous trees, on or near your property, you’re helping our crews perform their jobs more safely and efficiently. Therefore, we achieve system improvements at a much quicker pace. This proactive approach sets us apart from other electric utilities, by not only improving reliability but also reducing the risk of power line-caused wildfires.

Safety
The safety of our members and employees is of top priority. While lessening the risk of power line-sparked wildfires is a major safety concern, overgrown trees and vegetation can also turn an everyday scenario into a dangerous, or even deadly, one. If a child is climbing a tree that is hovering near a power line, the branches could make contact with the line and become energized at a lethal voltage. Our proactive tree trimming approach aims to decrease dangerous scenarios, like this, which can occur at a member’s home or business, or while crews are working in the field. During severe weather events, uprooted trees and toppled branches, take an already challenging outage restoration, and create a more complicated, dangerous and time-consuming situation for crews. MEC’s vegetation management efforts are removing dying trees and overgrown vegetation, to reduce these occurrences.

Affordability
As a not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperative, we must keep operational expenses in check. This program helps to minimize the potential for costly repairs caused by overgrown trees and vegetation. It also helps us mitigate wildfire risks, which could be a detrimental expense to the Co-Op.

Our members have depended on us to deliver safe, affordable and reliable power to their homes, businesses and ranches for more than 85 years. The Co-Op’s approach to vegetation management helps us deliver on those expectations. We keep lines clear and accessible, equip our crews for future weather events and provide our members with the secure, reliable system they deserve.