T&D World Magazine
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Devolution

Utilities are unquestioningly accepting responsibility for the impacts of privately owned trees.

When I started working for TransAlta Utilities, there was a recognition program dubbed “Bright Ideas” that solicited employee input for new solutions, efficiencies, etc. Oh and I had bright ideas! In 1985 I suggested that a paradigm shift was necessary regarding VM. Specifically, I recommended that the company reject the notion of sole responsibility for the maintenance of trees located on private property and any trees within the right of way where the adjacent landowner was opposed to the most economical solution.

I thought the timing to do so was perfect, as in the prior 10 years people had been ditching the old rabbit ears and subscribing to cable or satellite TV. People were now paying for entertainment that once was free. I reasoned that it wasn’t a big stretch, then, to have people accept that if they wanted the aesthetics of trees we wished to remove, forcing us to prune them instead or pruning on a shorter cycle, that there was an associated cost. Billing directly for the VM costs would add a lot of administrative costs but we could, for example, establish an average price per tree requiring pruning that would simplify the billing. This paradigm shift was likely to result in much better clearances and a tremendous reduction, if not elimination of, ¼ or ½ mile sections of native growth trees that we were currently required to prune. During the review process, which involved various departments, the Public Affairs group contacted my direct supervisor questioning my mental balance and capacity.

While cable or satellite service was the first of this new breed of charges, think of what costs have been added to the average home that have been readily accepted since 1985. The options for TV have expanded, and we think nothing of paying $100, $200 or more per month. We have Internet service; another $50 to $100 per month. We have cell phone bills.

I relate this anecdote to highlight a number of facts. My view that the risks associated with tree-conductor conflicts are a social issue is not new. The lack of tree maintenance by property owners is not new. The window of opportunity, if not permanently closed, will certainly be difficult to pry open. Thirty more years of utilities unquestioningly accepting responsibility for the impacts of privately owned trees has further ingrained the existing paradigm, to the extent the public perceives no contradiction in both resisting utility efforts to secure the system and holding the utility fully and solely accountable for the risks associated with above ground service.

Over that same 30-year period there have been societal and political changes. Self-reliance and personal responsibility have been replaced with publicly initiated political intervention. We have created a nanny state inviting and accepting the intrusion of the state into all aspects of our lives. Maybe you see that as positive. In my view, these changes are a societal regression but that is a topic for another time and place.

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