CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s been five years since the Derecho left more than 80 percent of the state of West Virginia without electricity. The 2012 storm exposed the lack of adequate right-of-way maintenance for many years in on brief, but intense event. When the debris was finally cleared and lines rebuilt, state regulators and power companies were forced to look at improved maintenance requirements.
Appalachian Power is now three years into a six year right of way clearing program approved by the Public Service Commission.
“We submitted a plan called ‘Cycle-Based Vegetation Management’ and that’s what we’re about three years into,” said Appalachian Power Spokesman Phil Moye. “The plan calls for us to take six years to get all of our circuits cleared end-to-end and then after that clear all of those circuits on a four year basis.”
Nearly half of the circuits are now cleared out and Moye said the difference in service is clear.
“On the circuits we’ve completely trimmed, we’ve seen significant improvement on reliability from tree related outages,” he explained. “We’re seeing about a 39 percent reduction in tree related outages on these circuits. That’s huge when you consider the heavily forested and mountainous nature of our state.”
The cleared lines are not only not breaking as often, but Moye added when they have experienced outages in those areas the time of restoration has been significantly shortened as well with fewer trees or bushes in the way.
“We really thought we’d see this sort of improvement,” he said. “But until we were able to present this plan and the Commission granted us the ability to incorporate that level of maintenance into our rates we weren’t able to do that level of trimming. Now that we are, we’re seeing that it’s paying off very nicely.”
The company anticipated once the six year cycle is complete and the program transitions into a four-year cycle of trimming the work will go much quicker.
“The first round is always the most difficult,” said Moye. “In a four year time, you’ll be trimming vegetation that’s only been growing for a few years and it will be much easier to clear away.”
The size of a line right of way varies throughout the region from 10 feet on either side of a distribution line to 100 feet on a transmission line. While the maintenance is offering greater protection, Moye explained it’s impossible to prevent all tree related outages in West Virginia. But the company is confident with the cyclical vegetation plan, chances of another mass disaster like the 2012 Derecho are greatly reduced. There is also greater confidence that a normal storm won’t turn into a major catastrophe.