Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Utilities Trim Trees Or Get Fined

Trees falling onto transmission wires in storms or wires sagging in the heat into tree limbs are to blame for most of the major U.S. blackouts, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC). It is estimated that 90% of weather-related outages are caused by trees hitting power lines. A nationwide order to trim trees near power lines could decrease significantly the kinds of power outages that plunge whole states into darkness. Mandatory tree trimming did not gain momentum until Aug. 14, 2003, when transmission lines owned by FirstEnergy in Ohio came into contact with tree limbs and triggered the shutdown of 21 power plants in three minutes in the eastern USA and Canada.

In 2005, Congress passed a bill requiring tree trimming, but it was not enforced until 2007 to give utilities time to comply. It was not until this summer that NERC, which administers the law, began fining utilities that have not moved aggressively enough to comply. The first two fines, totaling $255,000, were issued in June. NERC says the fines can go as high as $1 million per day.

The federal rules affect only high-voltage transmission lines and not the neighborhood wires known as distribution lines. It is transmission lines that carry the risk of major outages.


Title XII - Electricity
Electricity Modernization Act of 2005 -
Subtitle A - Reliability Standards
Section 1211 -
Amends the Federal Power Act to grant FERC jurisdiction over the Electric Reliability Organization, over regional entities, and over all users, owners and operators of the bulk-power system (except in Alaska and Hawaii), for purposes of approving reliability standards and enforcing compliance.
Requires federal agencies responsible for approving access to electric transmission or distribution facilities to expedite any federal agency approvals that are necessary to allow the owners or operators of such facilities to comply with any FERC-approved reliability standard that pertains to vegetation management, electric service restoration, or resolution of situations that imminently endanger facility reliability or safety.

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