Utilities face a difficult task when it comes to balancing the public’s desire for uninterrupted power and landowners’ tolerance for what it takes to deliver that service. On one hand, unmanaged vegetation in utility rights of way can cause power outages that disrupt peoples’ lives. On the other hand, the same people who don’t want to miss their favorite television program due to a power outage may protest when a crew applies herbicides or trims trees under power lines adjacent to their land.
Massive blackouts on the East Coast in 2003 vividly demonstrated what can happen when vegetation interferes with power lines. That sequence of events led the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to enforce stricter clearance guidelines with hefty fines – up to $1 million per day – for vegetation-induced outages.