Commission improves utilities' tree management rules

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:43

    Albany — The New York State Public Service Commission on May 19 adopted eight recommendations to improve and clarify utility practices regarding high-voltage transmission right-of-way vegetation management practices. “Maintaining the highest degree of electric system reliability for the benefit of New York’s customers is among the most important of our responsibilities,” said Commission Chairman Garry Brown. “However, there is a real need to ensure that the public is kept fully informed regarding changes to be made to vegetation surrounding high-voltage power lines in the community.” The Commission noted that widespread electric system outages happen when contact occurs between a tree and a transmission line during, for example, a storm that causes a fault in the transmission circuit. Because of this, effective management of transmission rights-of-way is an essential component of system reliability. But in recent months, members of the public and elected officials have expressed concern about utilities’ vegetation management practices citing ugly clear-cuts, noise, erosion and decreased property value as potential results. More than 200 written comments were received and six public statement hearings conducted throughout the state. Upon review of the comments, the Commission accepted eight recommendations, which are listed.

    The Public Service Commission’s recommendations
    1. Consolidated Edison Company of New York and Orange & Rockland Utilities shall provide individual written notification to all easement encumbered and abutting landowners, local municipal elected officials, and affected state agencies, of cyclic Right-of-way vegetation management work, not more than 180 days nor less than 30 days prior to the commencement of such work.
    2. Con Edison and Orange & Rockland shall provide in their notification details of the type of vegetation management work to be performed, the physical boundaries of the work, the methods and extent of the proposed work, provisions for cleanup and Right-of-way restoration and the expected dates of commencement and completion.
    3. Con Edison and Orange & Rockland shall develop, for staff review and acceptance, a section in their Long Range Right of Way Management Plans (Plan) specifically addressing how they will conduct their Right-of-way management work on high density Right-of-way areas.
    4. All companies shall submit, for staff review and acceptance, updates to their Web sites and any printed materials, detailing the rationales and practices governing their Right-of-way management programs.
    5. All companies shall establish a direct line of communication between the public and the companies’ vegetation management personnel for questions regarding Right-of-way vegetation management work. Information advising of the opportunity for such communication and how such communication can be accessed shall be made available on the companies’ Web sites, on all required notifications, and provided by field personnel and contractors upon request.
    6. All companies shall develop sections in their commission approved right-of-way management plans, for staff review and acceptance, to address the circumstances and criteria pursuant to which replanting is warranted.
    7. All companies shall develop, if one does not exist or enhance if one does, a section in their plans detailing when and where various types of vegetation will be allowed to remain on a right-of-way. The section shall incorporate, to the extent possible, a vegetation management approach that recognizes that removal of desirable species is neither required nor preferred. Commensurate training and oversight of field personnel shall also be addressed.
    8. The Commission staff believes its recommendations appropriately reflect the concerns that have been expressed, are cost-effective and sensitive to environmental, aesthetic and community values, and protect the continued provision of safe and reliable electric service and recommends their adoption.