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The Essentials of Vegetation Management

Utility infrastructure is essential to provide reliable, consistent power to utility customers. However, vegetation, such as fallen trees or uncontrolled brush, can threaten the safety and stability of this infrastructure, resulting in outages that can leave customers without vital power.

Vegetation management can help prevent these undesirable outages and infrastructure failures. Below, you’ll learn more about vegetation management as it exists today and how the utility industry is improving the process.

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What Is Vegetation Management?

Vegetation management is the process of mitigating undesirable vegetation by mechanical, chemical or biological control methods. Vegetation management includes the control of trees and branches to bushes, weeds and vines. Each of these types of vegetation can become a threat to infrastructure, such as powerlines, and removing or controlling this vegetation is essential to ensure communities receive safe and reliable utility services.

Vegetation management methods vary depending on the vegetation you must control or remove. To maintain the integrity of the electric system, trees routinely need to be pruned or removed entirely. Mechanical methods such as mowing or hand-cutting brush and overgrown weeds are most effective when followed up by herbicide applications. Routine and timely vegetation management is essential to reduce the risk of hazardous conditions that can cause fires or impact power delivery.

Types of Vegetation Management

Some examples of vegetation management essential to maintain infrastructure systems are listed below:

1. Tree Removal

Tree removal may be necessary if it becomes hazardous, which means it is unhealthy or can potentially fall on a powerline. Removing these trees eliminates the risk of them falling onto powerlines, which helps prevent wildfires or power outages.

Tree removals could also be needed for trees that are non-native and invasive or have been planted too close to infrastructure. Trees planted too close to infrastructure systems in combination with species-specific growth patterns could make the tree unsustainable in the future.

2. Tree Pruning

If a tree is healthy and is not an immediate hazard to powerlines or other infrastructure, it can be pruned. Pruning is essential when trees can grow close to power lines, and directional pruning methods encourage tree branches to grow away from infrastructure.

3. Brush Removal

Some brush can cause outages or fires if it grows near electrical infrastructure. Thick brush or invasive species of brush can also impede access to infrastructure during an emergency. Removing brush helps reduce risk, which helps keep surrounding communities safe. Brush can be removed by mowing or cutting for clearance.

4. Herbicides

Herbicides can help control weeds and unwanted plants by suppressing or killing them by interfering with biological processes like photosynthesis. Herbicides are effective at increasing the cost of vegetation management and reducing manual labor.

Why Is Vegetation Management Important?

Why Is Vegetation Management Important?

Utility vegetation management is key to providing consumers with high-quality, safe and reliable power. The benefits of maintaining and controlling vegetation include:

  • Improving safety and public health: Vegetation that grows near or on power lines and other electrical infrastructure can start fires, which can quickly spread into devastating wildfires. Vegetation management is critical to maintain and improve safety and public health by eliminating the risk of fires and reducing the number and duration of power outages.
  • Improving grid resiliency: Vegetation management also improves grid resiliency. Removing vegetation mitigates the risk of outages caused by vegetation overgrowth. Maintaining grid resiliency is essential to local customers and the stability of the nation’s infrastructure.
  • Improving efficient use of resources: Power generated by power plants is valuable, and downed powerlines from overgrowth can cause the energy produced to be lost forever. Vegetation management can help reduce the risk of outages, ensuring energy resources are used efficiently. Effective vegetation management plans and implementation can reduce management costs year over year, resulting in returns on investment for electric utilities.
  • Reducing environmental impact: Vegetation management, when managed appropriately, can also reduce the impact on the local environment. Effective vegetation management follows industry standards and best management practices (BMPs) for controlling unwanted plant and tree growth and helps protect vegetation as a natural resource.

Properly maintained vegetation also benefits utility companies by lowering costs, reducing repairs and emergency response times and improving the reliability of services. Vegetation management for utility companies is a necessary procedure to improve the safety and reliability of your power.

Challenges in Vegetation Management

While vegetation management is essential and provides many benefits for utility companies, the process has some challenges:

  • Costs of technology and training: While vegetation management is essential for utility companies, there are difficulties with obtaining the necessary resources. One of utility companies’ most significant challenges is having limited operation and maintenance budgets to cover the required maintenance. Recruitment in the vegetation management field can also be challenging, as many workers leave the industry for higher pay and work with less travel.
  • Standardization in practices and regulations: Vegetation management must be specific to natural ecosystems, environments and site-specific vegetation growth patterns, resulting in implementation variations within electric utility footprints and across the country. Regulations from the federal and state governments must also be complied with when developing vegetation management plans.
  • Challenges with protecting or replanting native plant species: Many utility companies use mechanical mowing to remove vegetation around power lines. While this practice is ideal as a temporary solution, if implemented inappropriately, it can eliminate native plant species while spreading seeds that encourage the growth of unwanted vegetation. As a result, utility companies may see increasing costs with maintenance.
  • Extreme weather threats: Extreme weather, such as hurricanes and wildfires, can create a disastrous situation with power lines. Tree limbs can threaten power lines in mild weather conditions, but this threat multiplies during extreme weather. Vegetation management professionals must respond quickly in these situations, which may be difficult due to site conditions and resource availability.

The Future of Vegetation Management

Despite the challenges with vegetation management, several trends aim to improve the process and make it more efficient for utility companies:

1. Increased Use of Technology

Technology is helping utility companies make smarter decisions while making their systems more resilient. Some technologies emerging in vegetation management include:

  • Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar): Lidar generates accurate 3D information about the surface characteristics of utility infrastructure, which can help change how ground crews operate.
  • Satellites: Satellite technology provides 24-hour coverage of utility infrastructure, including macro views of everything in the area and micro views for more specific details.
  • Drones: Drone technology can fly close to utility infrastructure and get a high-resolution view of the area to determine whether vegetation management is needed.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI): AI records and organizes all your data. AI can also identify vegetation and offer insights to inform vegetation management practices.

These technologies can help change vegetation management, making it more efficient and safer for workers and the local community. Much of this technology is also affordable, providing cost-effective solutions for data collection.

2. Improved Data Gathering and Analysis

Typical data collection can be time-consuming and costly, as you must pay for labor and equipment. Changes in technology are making it easier to collect and analyze data for future use. Lidar, satellites and drones can collect important data about vegetation growth, which can assist leaders in vegetation management with creating annual and future plans and developing new or alternative and more efficient programs.

AI technology can help analyze and store data and provide recommendations, which can assist in more effective vegetation management performance and improve the safety, reliability and efficiency of electrical infrastructure. Collecting and analyzing data can also make it easier to establish internal regulations and standards for vegetation management used to protect natural plant species.

3. Enhanced Communication

Most damage to utility infrastructure comes from large trees outside clearance areas. Improving communication through vegetation management can make cooperating with municipalities or landowners easier, allowing utility companies to target vegetation that poses the most significant risk. Clearing these trees or overgrown vegetation can also help when extreme weather events occur, reducing the risk of downed power lines causing an outage and impacting reliability.

Partner With TRC Companies for Vegetation Management

TRC Companies is an expert in vegetation management and keeping our customers and their infrastructure protected. We offer comprehensive vegetation management services, which include analyzing data and providing technical expertise for sustainable and efficient vegetation management.

Our in-house team can help you find an effective solution to protect your infrastructure. We can help regulated and non-regulated organizations protect their equipment so they can continue providing reliable services to their customers.

Contact us today to learn more about our vegetation management services.

Partner With TRC Companies for Vegetation Management

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