It’s a reasonable expectation that when you flip a switch (or ask Alexa to do it) the electricity will flow and your lights will immediately come on. That’s what is known in the electricity distribution industry as reliability.
Keeping the power on 24/7/365 is a big deal at Walton EMC. We take special pride in consistently achieving a reliability of 99.99 percent, meaning our customer-owners experience a power outage an average of only 4 minutes per week. Most won’t lose power at all.
A lot of work happens in the background to make this exceptional reliability possible. Not the least of that is managing the vegetation that grows near our lines, poles and other electric distribution infrastructure. Tree limbs that come in contact with power lines cause about 80 percent of electrical outages, Walton EMC engineers estimate. If limbs break and fall, which frequently happens during Georgia’s stormy seasons, they can bring power lines down with them. Even branches brushing up against energized lines can cause annoying blinks and surges that compromise reliability.
To reduce outages caused by tree contact, Walton EMC prunes trees away from its power lines on a planned, four-year cycle. As Walton EMC’s right-of-way coordinator, it’s Eric Floyd’s job to oversee those efforts.
Eric, who assumed his current role last August, has 28 years’ experience with Walton EMC. Most of those years were spent as a lineman, a job that helps him well understand the importance of keeping utility rights-of-way clear.
Eric’s goal is to limit the number of outages attributed to falling trees and limbs. Multiple tree pruning crews working year-round throughout the co-op service area help in accomplishing that goal.
“If I do my job right, it helps the linemen be more efficient in restoring power, especially after a storm,” he said.
Also important to the program is the cooperation of every Walton EMC customer-owner.
“If there was time, I’d like to sit down and talk to every member and tell them just how important it is that they allow professionals with the right tools and training to do the pruning necessary to protect our lines,” Eric said.
Since he can’t visit with each member individually, we asked Eric to share some of the ROW maintenance questions he’s asked most frequently and the responses he provides. Here’s what he told us.
What exactly IS a utility right-of-way?
The power lines you see running along streets and roads, and sometimes cutting across rural properties, are called distribution, or primary, lines. Your co-op has a 15-foot easement on each side of these power lines and unlimited space above the lines. In addition to overhead lines, Walton EMC needs a clear space around underground transformers, pole bottoms and meters.
Why does the co-op invest in ROW maintenance?
In the long run, it saves Walton EMC customer-owners’ money. Any time we can avoid outages we’re reducing labor and supply expenses that far exceed costs of pruning trees.
Why do you have to trim my trees?
The most important reason for keeping trees trimmed away from power lines is safety. Tree branches that come into contact with energized line can conduct lethal amounts of electricity. No one wants a tree close enough to a power line that would allow a playful child to climb up and be in danger.
Second, it’s the law. According to Georgia State statute, Walton EMC and other electric utilities are required to maintain ROW easements and keep them clear. Any vegetation growing into our easement, or having the potential to encroach that area, is trimmed.
Third, keeping plant growth off our lines is important to ensuring electric service reliability for both you and your neighbors. Limbs brushing against our lines can cause blinks and temporary outages. A blink can cause havoc with your computer system and possibly cause the loss of valuable data.
If limbs that overhang our lines are properly managed, you’re also less likely to have a prolonged outage when storms roll through. Storm-related outages are caused when limbs broken by ice or wind crash down on our lines.
Are you going to “butcher” my trees?
Walton EMC ROW maintenance contractors use the latest equipment and methods to prune trees in a way that does not interfere with their natural defense mechanisms and promotes re-growth. We adhere to industry standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).
Why do you have to remove my tree instead of just trimming out the top?
Completely removing a threatening tree is usually better than severely trimming the top. When a tree is “topped,” it puts all its energy into making leaves. The other parts of the tree suffer, inviting devastating disease and insect damage.
How often will you prune my trees?
Right now, we maintain right-of-way for more than 7,000 miles of power lines. It takes our crews about four years to cycle through all those miles – and then we begin again.
How will I know when a ROW crew is headed to my area?
About two to three weeks before we begin routine trimming, a hangtag will be left on your front door to notify you that crews will be working in the area.
You trimmed my trees today, so why didn’t you clean up?
Some of our crews have the ability to pick up and haul away debris as it is cut. Other crews are separated into two teams: the first team cuts and the second team follows within a day or two to handle the cleanup. If debris remains in your yard longer than three business days, please call Walton EMC at (770) 267-2505 to report this.
If you have to remove my tree or shrubbery that’s in the right-of-way, will you replace it?
We don’t replace shrubs or other vegetation in our easement that might become damaged or removed during the course of maintenance or repair. We need your cooperation to ensure that new landscape plantings you install follow the right-of-way guidelines published on waltonemc.com. Always plant vegetation outside of our right of way and follow our planting guide to eliminate safety risks and the potential for trimming.
Who is responsible for trimming vegetation that is interfering with the service line between the transformer and my home?
If a tree threatens your service wire, we’ll be glad to disconnect it while tree surgeons remove the tree.
Will you dispose of clippings after trimming around my service line?
Unlike the cleanup we always do in co-op rights-of-way, our ROW teams do not clear away debris resulting from pruning along a service line. This is the responsibility of the customer-owner requesting the work. Our crews are trained to cut trees and limbs into small pieces that can be easily removed for disposal.
Does Walton EMC use herbicide?
We do use herbicide along some rights of way. The herbicide is approved by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and is applied only by contractors licensed to do that work. When applying herbicide, our contractors stay clear of buffer zones such as water sources, farmland and fence rows. If you have concerns, please call Walton EMC at (770) 267-2505.