Vegetation Management
Electrical Utility Transmission Line Clearance Requirements

In 2003 the Northeast United States suffered a power outage that was the second most widespread electrical power outage in US history. More than 10 million people in Canada and 45 million people in the United States were affected. The blackout was caused when high-voltage power lines came in contact with "overgrown trees". The cascading effect that resulted forced the shutdown of more than 100 power plants. It took nine seconds for the grid to collapse.

In January 2009 a major ice storm produced widespread power outages for more than 2 million people in the Midwest. Ice-laden trees and branches contributed to outages as they crashed down onto power lines throughout the eight state areas impacted.

These are but two examples of why vegetation management is important. The maintenance of power line right-of-ways for both transmission and distribution lines are essential to assuring system reliability.

Power Line Clearance Requirements

Similar to how not all electrical lines are created equal, not all trees around public utilities have the same power line clearance requirements. Due to the differences in their voltage, for example, transmission and distribution lines have different line clearance regulations to reduce blackouts and safety concerns. Here, we explain how these laws can affect your vegetation management plan.
Transmission Line Clearance Requirements

Transmission lines, also called high voltage transmission lines, run on steel towers or large wooden structures with multiple lines. Because their job is to move the electricity from the power plant to its substations for pick up by the distribution line, they harness extremely high voltages. Transmission lines are categorized as having voltages of 200Kv or higher, and therefore have different regulations than distribution lines. The regulations for these are under the authority of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and are outlined specifically by the Electric Reliability Standard FAC-003-3, which addresses utility vegetation management and tree trimming right-of-ways. 

The main takeaways to be aware of regarding the FAC-003-3 power line clearance requirements are as follows:

  • Trees and vegetation growing in or adjacent to the transmission power line must be trimmed to avoid contact.
  • Because trees and other vegetation are constantly growing, they should be trimmed beyond the minimum clearance specified.
  • Every utility company is required to implement a vegetation management plan to comply with these regulations as well as state and local laws.

Distribution Line Clearance Requirements

Distribution lines have lower voltages of around 100kV or under. These are the electrical poles you’ll see lining neighborhoods and roads that are responsible for carrying electricity from the sub-stations to homes and business and ultimately to the end consumer. While distribution lines have lower voltages, they are still at risk for fallen trees on power lines during big storms or tree removal accidents. Consequently, distribution lines are regulated by the utility regulatory commissions of each state, so it is critical to follow your state-specific laws. Check with your local utility regulatory commission for their current standards.

Why It Matters

Power lines are subject to different state or federal vegetation clearance regulations depending on the type of lines they are. Adhering to line clearance regulations is crucial not only to avoiding hefty fines for overgrown trees but also keeping the lights on for consumers. Having a utility right-of-way vegetation management plan could therefore mean the difference between unnecessary power outages and happy customers for your utility company.

At Townsend Tree, our right of way clearance experts know all the state and federal regulations that apply to power lines in your area, saving your utility business the trouble. Working with our experienced vegetation management company will ensure your transmission and distribution lines are properly cleared of trees and encroaching vegetation to comply with such laws. We also use the best tools on the market to safely keep your business in compliance.

For six decades, Townsend Tree has provided quality vegetation management services to utility companies across 30 states. Let us curate a vegetation management plan that’s perfect for you.
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