We all accept that vegetation management around overhead electricity power lines is essential. There are many elements to this work ranging from cutting trees through to moving lines and much more in between these tasks.
Legislation is the primary driver for the electricity companies to spend money on vegetation management. ETR132 and ETR136 are two dreaded documents - one covers public safety, the other resilience of the network. Both are difficult to adhere to, as they demand many things to happen to ensure safe, reliable electricity.
So, the management of the vegetation starts with the survey of the network to be worked on. This is carried out by competent professionals with in-depth tree knowledge as well as a good knowledge of the electricity lines being surveyed. Amongst these known quantities are the uncertainties that can throw the best time schedule off course – people! You will certainly encounter the public during the survey. At this point the negations start - agreeing what can be done and what the customer (public) wants, which is sometimes very different to what the client (electricity company) has charged the vegetation management company to deliver.
Everyone who has power lines running over or alongside their property, be they domestic houses, large industrial units, golf clubs through to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), has to agree to the work before the vegetation is managed. The surveyor needs to understand the additional legislation that comes with the negations – the Countryside and Wildlife Act, Tree Preservation Orders, Conservation Areas to name but three. All have a massive impact on completing the task of satisfying clients. Falling foul of any of this legislation comes with fines, some very large. Birds nesting, badger setts, bats roosting and ancient woodlands are all things the surveyor needs to consider when getting consent to clear the lines of vegetation. This then needs documenting so the tree cutting teams are fully aware of what is required and the risks associated with completing the work.
Dealing with the landowner is a major part of this work and can be a real challenge. For example, we have come across farmers who have held grudges (man and boy) against their electricity company for something agreed and not undertaken a generation before, or they feel that the last vegetation management company slashed and trashed their land and trees, ruining the best pheasant drive, knocking fences down allowing cattle out and on it goes. We’ve met homeowners who have planted a tree in memory of a dear departed grandma or cat, under the power line without looking up. We find that people want to agree to work on trees they don’t even own – it appears that some people want to claim more than they should. These are just some of the issues surveyors have to deal with every day before trees can be cut.
We’ve been clearing vegetation for over 20 years now and are never surprised by the reasons the public don’t want a tree cut. However, as specialists, vegetation management companies must negotiate solutions that bring a client’s requirements and the needs of the customer together. It is important to think laterally in order to find solutions that may well not involve tree cutting but is most certainly vegetation management.
I heard a good example of how by negation the client and the customer were both satisfied with the outcome. A surveyor turned up at a large farm and met with the landowner, who duly drove him around all his land looking and agreeing all the work that needed to be done to fulfil the obligations. Smiling, the surveyor asked for a signature – at this point the landowner said he had one last place to show the surveyor before he would sign. Around the corner of the large grain barn they drove and there it was…. a stay wire landing in his new gateway. He said: ‘if you get that moved I’ll sign.’ The client agreed to move the stay wire at their cost, the vegetation was cut and there were smiles all round.
Taking a customer-focused approach is essential to arriving at a win/win solution. In this case the surveyor compromised to ensure that both landowner and the electricity company got what they needed. Often one has to undertake work outside the scope of the vegetation management contract in order to get the job done. Ideally, the vegetation management company should have a team with broad knowledge and experience so that they can resolve such problems with very little input from the client. Of course, this isn’t always possible, as some landowners can be unreasonable but the vast majority will allow work to take place after discussing all the issues.
The management of the vegetation has become so tied into the new ESQC regulations that having the trees cut may only solve the issue under these new regulations in the short term, bringing us back to the negations over a permanent solution. Permanent solutions can be achieved by taking the tree down, re-routing the power line or undergrounding it. When looking at the management from the ESCQ side, a permanent solution is needed to satisfy the regulator. Cost as well as practicality is taken into consideration, so the cheapest and most permanent solution (normally) is the removal of the tree, and this is the tree surveyor’s starting point. However, they can offer incentives such as a new tree planted away from the power line, before moving onto more expensive electrical solutions, but either way a solution can and will normally be found.
So, you can see that the management of vegetation around overhead power lines consist of far more than cutting trees. In fact while the tree cutting needs to be carried out by competent professionals it’s the negotiations that are critical. You need to have the tree knowledge, the ability to offer alternative solutions (we all like to know if there is an alterative), be a good communicator and have very good skills in weighing up the person stood in front of you, as well as a thorough understanding of the legislation that will come down on you if you get the permission wrong.
Halley McCallum is managing director of BTS Group Ltd. BTS Group is a leading utility contractor offering vegetation management, overhead line maintenance and construction including hot glove work. BTS carries out vegetation management across East Anglia both for utility companies and other major clients. It also works across Eastern England on the over head power lines for various clients. In addition to the above services, BTS also offers a comprehensive range of arboriculture and utility arboriculture nationally accredited training courses and assessments.
For further information, visit: www.btsgroupuk.com