Tree Trimming, Tree Removal and Vegetation Management
Electric system reliability is of primary concern to the Public Service Commission. Unfortunately, system outages can impact the reliability of New York State’s electric power grid. System outages can be triggered by individual component failures resulting in potential serious consequences in terms of economic, personal and societal losses that may be suffered by the public and communities affected in a blackout or extended power outage.
Major disturbances in electric service can result from fallen tree limbs and overgrown vegetation coming in contact with transmission and distribution lines. In New York, reliable power delivery depends upon the competent maintenance and operation by utilities of over 15,000 miles of electric transmission facilities within the state. Under state law, the Public Service Commission is charged with ensuring safe and reliable operation of the state’s electric grid.
The blackout that disrupted electric service to the entire northeastern United States in August 2003 was caused by tree limbs coming in contact with transmission lines in Ohio thereby causing major power failures.
Utility Vegetation Management Plans
In order to help ensure the highest degree of electric system reliability for the benefit of New York State’s residents, electric utilities are required to file with the Public Service Commission long-range vegetation management plans to effectively manage transmission facility right-of-way corridors they rent or own in order to minimize power outages due to encroaching tree limbs or overgrown vegetation on utility right-of-ways. The Public Service Commission requirements for vegetation management extend only to property controlled by the utility via fee or easement.
The utilities’ plans support and require an integrated approach to managing vegetation within a financially and environmentally prudent framework intended to maintain a high degree of reliability of the New York’s electric grid. For more information on New York State utilities’ vegetation management plans, please contact or visit:
https://www.cenhud.com/trees/howwetrim [external link]
https://www.coned.com/en/services-and-outages/preventing-recovering-from-outages/tree-trimming [external link]
Orange and Rockland
https://www.oru.com/en/services-and-outages/preventing-recovering-from-outages/tree-trimming [external link]
https://www.nationalgridus.com/Upstate-NY-Home/Electrical-Safety/Trees-and-Your-Electric-Service [external link]
Rochester Gas and Electric
https://www.rge.com/wps/portal/rge/outages/weareready/treecare/ [external link]
New York State Electric and Gas
https://www.nyseg.com/wps/portal/nyseg/outages/weareready/treecare/ [external link]
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Does the federal government require transmission owners or electric utilities to address issues related to vegetation management and electric facilities?
A. Yes. Federal agencies have taken steps to minimize tree contacts with electric facilities in utility right-of-ways. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) FAC 003-3 vegetation standard requires vegetation management planning for bulk transmission line (200kV and above) and for lower voltage lines deemed “critical.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [external link] (FERC) has been actively holding utilities accountable and assessing fines of hundreds of thousands dollars for failing to maintain vegetation growth in and near right-of-ways.
Q. Does New York State require electric utilities to address issues related to vegetation management and electric facilities?
A. Yes. Under 16 NYCRR, Part 84 of the Public Service Commission’s rules and regulations and the Commission’s order in Case 04-E-0822 (53 kb, 30 page, PDF) provide the framework for how each utility develops and implements its long-range vegetation management plan for the utilities’ right-of ways. The state’s requirement for utilities’ long-range plans requires vegetation management planning in right-of-way corridors for transmission facilities comprised of 34 kV and above, except where located entirely on public streets or roads in right-of-way corridors.
Central to the Public Service Commission’s longstanding policies on appropriate right-of-way management is the comprehensive and routine treatment of each right-of-way corridor, with the establishment of treatment cycles that ensure each right-of-way is revisited on a periodic basis. Upon treatment, all tall-growing or “undesirable” vegetation is removed along the entire designed right-of-way corridor. Through this regime, “desirable” (i.e., low growing) vegetation is enhanced. Reliability and the environment are preserved at the lowest feasible nominal cost.
The right-of-way maintenance program of each utility is reviewed and assessed annually by Staff of the Public Service Commission. This review includes a field inspection of a portion of each utility’s right-of-way system, a tree-caused outage assessment, and a trends analysis. Annual right-of-way management expenditures, staffing levels, acres treated per year, danger tree (i.e., trees with cracks or decay in proximity of a utility right-of-way) removal, herbicide use and complaint handling are also analyzed.
Q. Why must utilities perform right-of-way vegetation management activities such as tree trimming?
A. For electric power to be provided to customers, it must first be transmitted from the sources of generation to the places of distribution and consumption. Reliable power delivery in New York depends upon the competent maintenance and operation by utilities of over 15,000 miles of electric transmission facilities.
Over 90 percent of the tree-caused outages on transmission right-of-ways occurred when a tree growing along the edge or outside of the right-of-way fell. Many of these outages are tied to various types of minor storm events, including wind, rain, and snow.
Q. Are the state’s utilities permitted to use herbicides within the right-of-way corridors for vegetation management?
A. Yes. Herbicides that are used in a utility right-of-way corridor have been approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Herbicides provide the most efficient and effective way to remove unwanted plants from the rights-of-way in a manner that is least disruptive to the environment.
Q. May a landowner manage the utilities’ right-of-way on their own?
A. Generally utilities do not allow for this to occur due to a number of issues such as safety, liability and federal regulations. However, the utilities do support compatible uses of the right-of-way activities such as agricultural uses.
Q. Who do I call if I have a complaint with how the utility is conducting vegetation management work on my land or the land that the company owns?
A. A utility is interested in hearing from landowners if there is a problem. Prior to vegetation management work in a right-of-way by a utility, you should receive notification (with a name and phone number to call) indicating that work will be taking place in and around your area. If that does not happen and you need assistance, first contact your utility.
If there is not a satisfactory resolution concerning the disputed matter by your utility related to vegetation management in your area, you may then contact the New York State Public Service Commission’s Office of Consumer Services at 1-800-342-3377 or file a complaint by visiting www.dps.ny.gov.
Q. What if a utility trims or removes a tree or vegetation outside of the company’s right-of-way or fails to clean up debris after trimming or removing trees from the utility’s right-of-way?
A. Although utilities’ vegetation management activities are limited to right-of-way corridors they control through fee or easement, occasionally contractors hired by utilities have trimmed or removed trees that were not within the utility right-of-way, or have failed to clean up trimmed branches, logs or chips. In such instances, it is recommended you contact the utility.
If the disputed matter cannot be resolved to your satisfaction, you may then contact the New York State Public Service Commission’s Office of Consumer Services at 1-800-342-3377 or file a complaint by visiting www.dps.ny.gov.
Q. Are there minimum height and width requirements for vegetation growth near utility right-of-ways?
A. As falling trees or limbs into transmission lines are a primary source of tree-caused power failures, below are guidelines for tree planting and height clearances from the center of the utility right-of-ways:
- Trees planted 30 feet to 60 feet from transmission line right-of-ways should not exceed 15 feet in height;
- Trees planted 60 feet to 90 feet away from transmission line right-of-ways should not exceed 25 feet in height; and
- Trees planted 90 feet to 120 feet away from transmission line right-of-ways should not exceed 60 feet in height.
Q. Does planting or removing trees and shrubs present a safety hazard whether or not the activity occurs outside of a utility right-of-way?
A. With proper planning, landowners can avoid potential problems of interacting with utilities’ underground facilities and avoid a serious accident, injury or costly property damage while performing outdoor planting projects.
Before beginning your planting project, contact Dig Safely, New York at 811 or 1-800-962-7962 at least two (2) working days, but not more than 10 (ten) working days, so as not to disrupt any underground electric, telephone, sewer, cable or natural gas lines. For more information, please visit: www.digsafelynewyork.com [external link]
Q. Are they any potential dangers working on house projects near overhead transmission or distribution lines?
A. Potential hazardous situations exist if you work on house projects near overhead power lines. Common household products such as aluminum siding, pipes, tools, lumber, gutters and ladders conduct electricity and contact with these items near overhead power lines could cause serious injury or even death. Before performing house projects near overhead power lines, contact your utility.
Customer Assistance Staff of the New York State Department of Public Service (Department) will actively work with the utilities and impacted land owners whenever the Department becomes aware of instances requiring customer assistance to remedy matters related to utility vegetation management in right-of-ways.
Prior to contacting the New York State Department of Public Service, it is recommended that a landowner first contact the utility and attempt to resolve the issue. If the vegetation management issue cannot be resolved to your satisfaction, a landowner may file a complaint with the New York State Department of Public Service by calling 1-800-342-3377, 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday or by filing a complaint by visiting www.dps.ny.gov.