Is it only good luck that the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities has seen fewer electrical outages caused by tree damage during recent heavy storms or is something else at work?
"There is much more to it than luck," says BPU General Manager David L. Leathers. "A good portion of our electrical reliability in recent severe weather is partly attributed to an on-going planned effort to upgrade and maintain BPU infrastructure. In addition, when it comes to minimizing outages caused by tree damage, we point to our tree-trimming program and to our cooperative work with the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation."
Power outages often can occur due to trees or tree limbs. Lightening is attracted to the most direct path to the ground and searches for the highest object to strike. The moisture of sap and water either inside a tree's core or directly under the bark provides a better conductor than air.
Leathers explains that, as a result of an annual bidding process, the BPU contracts with the Asplundh tree-trimming company, which keeps one full-time crew working in the city. The tree-trimming team works in one area or district of the BPU electric territory at a time. Despite the full-time trimming effort, the general manager notes that the utility takes care to plan what trees may be trimmed or removed.
The BPU keeps track of all trees, trimming and removal with a computer Geographic Information System. GIS integrates hardware, software and data for capturing, managing, analyzing and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.
"The tree trimming crew is directed by the BPU Electric Division's transmission and distribution construction supervisor," continues Leathers. "We trim trees for safety and reliability of the distribution system while trying to maintain the health and aesthetics of the tree. Removal of a tree is performed when a tree's health is in question, when trimming will not be effective or if a tree is a threat to public safety or reliability."
The BPU coordinates and reviews tree removals with any affected municipality in its electric territory, including Jamestown, Celoron, Ellicott and Falconer. The utility works closely with the Jamestown Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation whose personnel provide additional assistance with trimming and removal. The city's arborist, Dan Stone, is often consulted regarding the health of a tree and its viability.
"If our line department is having a problem with a city tree that is interfering with a power line," says Steve Hoglin, BPU electric construction supervisor, "we will call Dan Stone from the Parks Department and ask him to look at the tree to provide advice."
"Moreover, Dan and the Parks Department have responded at different times for storm clean-up involving damaged or downed city trees," notes Hoglin. "If the Parks Department has to trim or remove a tree, and if needed, we will help them by covering power lines so that their employees are safe while doing that work."
Hoglin explains that Asplundh's work with the BPU generally doesn't center on emergencies. Asplundh's role for the BPU continues on a daily preventive maintenance schedule, rotating through areas of the electric territory on a multi-year plan.
"We've found that by trimming a tree periodically and on a consistent multi-year basis," says Hoglin, "you are actually helping to shape a tree, away from power lines, to lessen the chance of interference. Such trimming is resulting in fewer outages caused by trees."
BPU records indicate that the new trimming program does indeed work, as tree-related electrical outages in 2012 to date have dropped to five, affecting 37 customers. This figure compares to 17 tree-related outages affecting 1,202 customers in 2011; 16 tree-related outages affecting 5,782 customers in 2010; and 17 tree-related outages affecting 1,035 customers in 2009.
Trimming the trees for reliability in cooperation with the city Parks Department brings additional benefits to Jamestown.
Mike Zehler, Asplundh manager, for instance, points out that his company's tree trimming crew disposes of chips and logs at certain designated sites for the city Parks Department to use in their urban forestry program. The city is able to put this waste to good use, in effect, recycling the trees that are trimmed or removed.
Stone notes that the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department uses the waste to help newly purchased trees from nursery suppliers 'heal-in' for winter/summer storage.
"We also use the tree waste as mulch to spread around our newly planted or transplanted trees," states Stone. "We utilize it to mulch our park trees, as well as our numerous planters and flowering beds throughout the entire city."
Stone explains that some of the larger materials can be used as edging or posting materials along more scenic areas throughout the city's parks system.
"Although we do not like to see a tree removed," continues Stone, "we are grateful that such a tree or other tree parts from trimming can be 'recycled,' right here in the city to assist us as we plant new trees or protect older trees."
Stone notes that, due to the use of recycled tree waste, the city received a "Growth Award" to accompany its 30th Tree City USA Award, received in 2011.