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A Green ROW Can Save Both Money and the Planet

July 17, 2019
Integrated vegetation management can reduce the incidence of tree-related service interruptions and the overall cost of managing vegetation on utility ROW.

As president of the Utility Arborist Association, I am proud of the association’s members who help to manage tens of thousands of miles of transmission right-of-way (ROW) across North America. These millions of acres are critical components of our infrastructure and can be a means for utilities to improve their environmental, financial, and public relations performances. I hope more utilities will take advantage of these opportunities to reduce ROW maintenance costs and demonstrate a visible commitment to environmental sustainability.

Over the past several years, the UAA has worked closely with T&D World through this annual supplement to emphasize the critical importance of vegetation management in ensuring the safety and integrity of our electric grid. On behalf of the UAA, I would like to express my gratitude for this partnership and the benefits it has brought to our industry.

Utility asset managers are keenly aware of the potential impacts of trees. After all, trees have played a role in several major blackouts and continue to be an ongoing, costly maintenance issue on transmission and distribution ROW. Every time a storm strikes, trees make the news as they fail and impact utility infrastructure. Utilities allocate considerable resources to manage trees and other vegetation, employing tens of thousands across North America.

Implementation of best management practices like integrated vegetation management (IVM) can reduce the incidence of tree-related service interruptions and the overall cost of managing vegetation on utility ROW. Given its importance, UAA’s editorial committee endeavors to include articles in this annual supplement that highlight the value of IVM to utilities and their communities.

ROW Transformation

Practitioners of IVM use a combination of techniques that suppresses the establishment of undesirable trees and converts utility ROW into low-growing, naturally tree-resistant plant cover. Depending on surrounding land use and other local management objectives, IVM can be used to develop any number of plant communities compatible with utility objectives. In most cases, the ROW corridor can be transformed into environmentally sustainable habitat for pollinators and other wildlife species. Revised in 2018, American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A300 Part 7 provides performance standards for IVM implementation and can serve as a basis for writing IVM specifications.

Today, modern farming practices, combined with climate change and urban sprawl, have limited the availability of sustainable habitat for many plant and animal species, none more visible than the venerable monarch butterfly. However, the monarch is just one of many threatened species; indeed, a whole range of pollinators on which we all depend for many of our food crops are in decline. Utility ROW corridors provide utilities with a huge opportunity to aid pollinators and other species on an unprecedented scale across every state and province in North America in a highly visible way, often in partnership with other stakeholders such as government agencies and nonprofits.

UAA Assistance

The UAA can assist with creating and distributing educational materials, conducting training and providing outreach to spread the word regarding good stewardship. Research has demonstrated well-designed IVM programs reduce ROW maintenance costs without compromising performance. The Right of Way Stewardship Council is a nonprofit that provides an accreditation for utilities that practice IVM and meet other performance criteria. The UAA encourages utilities to become accredited and promote environmentally sustainable IVM practices. Every additional utility that gets recognized for preserving and enhancing their ROW lifts our entire industry. I encourage you to work within your utility and vegetation management contacts in the industry to spread this message.

If you are not currently using IVM best management practices, now is a good time to start. Invite other stakeholders in your organization to join us at the Trees & Utilities Conference on Sept. 10–12, 2019, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to learn more about our industry and how IVM is being used at other utilities.

About the UAA

The Utility Arborist Association (UAA) consists of more than 6000 professional vegetation managers who are working to improve the safety and reliability of the electric grid. The UAA has long supported the development and promotion of integrated vegetation management (IVM), utility pruning, tree risk assessment and other areas of professional practice. Research funded through the Utility Arborist Research Fund has enabled utilities to improve the effectiveness of their vegetation management programs. Core values of the UAA include a culture of safety, environmental sustainability and operational excellence. We provide at least 15 face-to-face meetings per year and other opportunities to reinforce these values and provide related learning opportunities for our members.

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