Austin En­ergy lauded for its tree-trim­ming ef­forts

Ar­bor Day Foun­da­tion cites util­ity’s work in keep­ing power lines clear of branches.

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Asher Price ash­er­price@states­man.com

For the 11th straight year, Austin En­ergy has been rec­og­nized by the Ar­bor Day Foun­da­tion for its ef­forts to keep power lines clear of trees.

Trees in­ter­fer­ing with power lines are a con­stant util­ity nui­sance and can lead to much worse.

The 2011 Bas­trop County wild­fires that de­stroyed more than 1,600 homes started af­ter trees and branches, shaken by high winds, fell on power lines, which then sparked. The Travis County fire mar­shal at­trib­uted a fire that de­stroyed 23 homes in Steiner Ranch that year to Austin En­ergy elec­tri­cal lines that touched each other, caus­ing them to spark and ig­nite grass.

More com­monly, trees en­tan­gling power lines can lead to power out­ages. The winds that brought an arc­tic cold front Mon­day were strong enough to lead one tree limb to dam­age a util­ity pole in South Austin, caus­ing an early morn­ing out­age that tem­po­rar­ily left 2,300 peo­ple with­out power near Brodie Lane and West Gate Boule­vard.

That sort of episode could be more fre­quent if not for tree-clear­ing ef­forts, Austin En­ergy of­fi­cials said.

Austin En­ergy is one of at least nine util­i­ties op­er­at­ing in Texas to win the des­ig­na­tion as a Tree Line USA util­ity by the Ar­bor Day Foun­da­tion, which cited the city-owned util­ity’s ef­forts to trim trees and pro­mote proper plant­ing so trees don’t in­ter­fere with power lines.

Tree limbs mak­ing con­tact with power lines ac­count for more than 60 per­cent of all of Austin En­ergy’s out­ages. Util­ity spokesman Car­los Cor­dova said re­li­able power “is not only im­por­tant for our qual­ity of life, but it’s also really im­por­tant for our econ­omy.”

“Data cen­ters and semi­con­duc­tor com­pa­nies would not

come to Austin if we did not have good re­li­a­bil­ity,” he said.

Austin En­ergy trims trees along 2,300 miles of lines, too many to get to all in one year. It takes about $15 mil­lion a year to trim along an av­er­age of 400 miles of power lines and on 12,000 prop­er­ties an­nu­ally to pre­vent power out­ages, of­fi­cials said in a state­ment.

Util­ity staff mem­bers meet prop­erty own­ers be­fore trim­ming oc­curs and con­tact neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tions to out­line trim­ming plans. The util­ity em­ploys 13 cer­ti­fied ar­borists to man­age the work of con­tract tree trim­ming crews.

Jose An­to­nio Gar­cia of Wright Tree Ser­vice secures him­self to a tree he’s trim­ming. Austin En­ergy won an award for its work in keep­ing trees clear of power lines. ALBERTO MARTÍNEZ / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

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