ATC works to balance its obligation to operate its facilities safely and reliably with its commitment to being a respectful neighbor. For safety and reliability reasons, trees and other vegetation are controlled and managed around electric transmission lines and facilities. While tree removals are not a popular activity, ATC has a duty and responsibility as a public utility to ensure safe and reliable electric service to the homes and businesses that count on it every day.
Trees can compromise safety by arcing or sparking which can lead to fire or electrocution. Trees also can cause interruptions in electric service if adequate clearances are not maintained and/or they grow into or fall on the lines. ATC identifies and addresses vegetation concerns to provide the highest level of reliability and to keep your family safe.
The right-of-way is maintained for safety and reliability
ATC conducts right-of-way vegetation management approximately every five years with the goal of removing all incompatible vegetation from the easement. Interim work to trim or remove vegetation is sometimes needed as a result of periodic inspections. A transmission line right-of-way typically includes land directly beneath the wires (wire zone) and land between the wire zone and the edge of
the right-of-way (border zone). In all cases, incompatible vegetation within the wire zone will be cleared regardless of height. Tall-growing trees and vegetation, brush and invasive species will also be cleared from the border zone, but some small, low-growing shrubs and plants may be permitted. While many property owners will use the easement area for gardens, prairie plantings, wild flowers, along with other non-vegetation uses, anything planted in the easement is at risk for removal should conditions or circumstances relating to the operation or maintenance of our facilities warrant it.
Understandably, some landowners question the need for removal of trees that might have just been trimmed or allowed to remain in the past. Industry practices for transmission utility right-of-way management, including those of ATC, have changed in recent years as a result of several widespread outages including one in the northeast that affected 50 million people in eight states and portions of Canada. Utilities that operate high-voltage
transmission lines are required by the federal government to establish and follow a vegetation management program that eliminates any and all threats to safety and reliability of their high-voltage transmission lines. Significant fines can be levied against utilities that do not maintain proper clearance. Those fines may then be passed on to ratepayers.
ATC forestry crews use manual, mechanical and herbicide control methods to achieve a clear and safe right-of-way. Beyond the edges of the right-of-way, large trees that are dead, dying, diseased or leaning that pose a threat to transmission lines and structures are removed or pruned.
Forestry crews are professionals
Vegetation management on high-voltage transmissions lines is best performed by qualified arborists who are specifically trained to work with the equipment and hazards in transmission line rights-of-way, and who have demonstrated the ability to safely perform the techniques involved in working around transmission lines.
ATC contracts with professional tree trimming and removal companies that have extensive experience in proper pruning and removal techniques. These crews participate in required training sessions on a variety of work-related topics and field issues. They carry identification showing their affiliation with ATC.
Rights-of-way and power lines are inspected
ATC’s vegetation maintenance cycle is typically five years. However, all of our facilities are inspected on an annual basis either on foot or by helicopter to identify any necessary repairs, deterioration or vegetation threats to our facilities that must be addressed prior to the next scheduled maintenance cycle.
Maintenance work is discussed with landowners
We know property owners near our facilities will have questions about vegetation management and it is our goal to provide opportunities to discuss our plans before our forestry contractors arrive for scheduled work. Typically we notify landowners by mail in advance and provide a description of our plans, the reason for the work, time frame and contact information for a designated ATC representative. We aim to provide ample time for the property owner to identify and make arrangements to relocate trees or bushes if they can be moved safely.
Vegetation that is likely to re-sprout after cutting may be treated with herbicides to inhibit re-growth. Years of experience and study by the utility industry have demonstrated that one of the most efficient and effective ways to keep rights-of-way clear of unwanted trees and brush is through the careful and selective use of herbicides. Herbicides are often used following clearing and mowing to control re-growth of unwanted, incompatible vegetation, and will not affect grasses and other non-woody species. In many cases, the vegetation removed from dense areas is not desirable native vegetation, but invasive plants like buckthorn and honeysuckle. These fast-growing plants not only hinder crew access to the transmission facilities, but choke out and compete with native grasses and plants for nutrients, sunlight and water. Eliminating incompatible vegetation in the corridor promotes the growth of native grasses, low-growing shrubs and other native ground cover that birds, deer and small animals prefer.
Incompatible species are removed
The dense growth of incompatible plants can impede access to our equipment. By clearing this kind of vegetation, we are better able to inspect and maintain our facilities and expose fast-growing trees that may be hidden from sight. This practice is consistent with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources initiative to control and eliminate invasive plants.
Invasive plants found along our rights-of-way are predominantly a combination of buckthorn and exotic honeysuckles. They are considered invasive because they have longer growing seasons and drain soil nutrients and water, which enables them to choke out native plants. Removing them from transmission line corridors allows low-growing, compatible vegetation in the area to quickly re-establish and improves biodiversity along the right-of way.
Low-growing vegetation is compatible with power lines
Grow low and keep the power flowing. Many property owners plant gardens, flowers, grasses and low-growing vegetation within the border zone area of the easement. This type of vegetation may not pose problems for the property owner or our facilities. Under the terms of the easement, however, any and all vegetation (as well as structures, sheds, etc.) located within the right-of-way is at risk of removal should circumstances warrant it. Keep in mind that small, immature trees planted today can grow into problem trees in the future. Check out our Grow Smart page to learn about suggestions for low-growing, beautiful vegetation that can be planted within transmission line rights-of-way.
While still subject to removal under the terms of the easement, these suggested species of grasses and flowers are less likely to interfere with access for emergency or maintenance crews than shrubs or tall-growing vegetation.
Trees are permitted outside of the right-of-way, as long as they do not encroach on the right-of-way area. Several studies have shown that planting the right tree in the right place can provide energy-saving benefits by cutting energy used by heating and air conditioning units. The shade provided by trees reduces air temperature, decreases the amount of radiant energy absorbed and stored by buildings and paved surfaces and also cut the wind, slowing the infiltration of outside air into climate-controlled structures. More information about energy-saving trees can be found on the Arbor Day Foundation website.
Tree Line USA®
Every day in communities all across America, people depend on safe, reliable electric service to power their homes, businesses, and public buildings. The TreeLine USA® program administered by the Arbor Day Foundation exists to recognize best practices in public and private utility arboriculture to utilities that demonstrate how trees and utilities can co-exist for the benefit of communities and citizens.
ATC has received the TreeLine USA® designation every year since 2008.
Trees for Threes
ATC and the Milwaukee Bucks are pleased to partner again for the sixth consecutive season on the Trees for Threes program. This partnership awards eligible schools within ATC’s service area in Wisconsin with one tree for every three point shot the Bucks make at home during the 2021-2022 regular season.