Besides staying solvent and viable, the bottom line for any utility is good service to its customers.  Some do it better than others, and here is an example of one that excels in a number of ways.  Rappahannock Electric Cooperative is a member-owned electric company that serves portions of 22 counties in Virginia.  The content for this summary is taken from an article that appears in T&D (Transmission and Distribution) World magazine titled "Customers, Contractors and Communication" by Forester Cindy Devlin Musick.  It is condensed here and used with permission.  This info was published as Tree City USA Bulletin 99 / National Arbor Day Foundation. 

Every decision at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) is based on what is best for the members.  REC has single-mindedness about a high level of member service and, not surprisingly, this mindset extends to the cooperative's vegetation management program.  REC manages some 8,000 miles of overhead rights-of-way, including about 200 miles of transmission lines. 

Here are three ways that REC's vegetation management program provides a particularly good example.  

Work With Contractors

REC uses multiple contractors.  This helps them hold each other accountable and keep prices reasonable.  Pruning is done on a five-year cycle and written specifications are used that address trimming distances and growth rates, herbicide treatment, and danger-tree removals.  The minimum distances required for pruning each tree are based on:  

  • Tree species (for example, a maple grows much faster than an oak) 
  • Type of overhead construction (wires and other equipment) 
  • High reliability zones (areas of a circuit from the station breaker to the first down-line operating device) 

REC's contractors are trained not only in proper pruning methods - ANSI A300 and safety requirements Z133 - but also regarding how much growth can be expected from various species.  Species and position relative to REC's facilities are the primary factors in determining the required clearance.  Contractors also learn to look at growth over the previous five years to determine whether more clearance is necessary. 

To encourage stability in the workforce, REC uses five-year contracts.  It also has a bonus program and a celebratory breakfast for contract employees who meet quarterly production goals.  In addition, there are incentives for safety and job attendance. 

Herbicides As A Tool

At REC, the use of herbicides is embraced to manage pollinator-and wildlife-friendly corridors, improve access, control invasive species, and prevent outages caused by trees and vines.  Specifically, herbicides are applied to stumps to prevent re-sprouting, thereby reducing the workload in the following cycle.  This also increases sunlight, which promotes native grasses and low-growing shrub habitat.  Following scheduled clearing in corridors, a low-volume foliar application of herbicide is used to catch tall-growing species before issue arise with power quality.  One of the many positive effects is the formation and maintenance of pollinator-and wildlife-friendly habitat. 

Contractors are instructed to avoid properties where members choose to opt out of the treatment and signs are placed accordingly.  Sometimes members change their minds after an explanation of the herbicides being applied and the desirable outcomes of their use.  They are usually unaware and pleasantly surprised when they learn of the potential benefits, including vistas for viewing wildlife, increased berry bushes and more birds.  

Customer Service

One of REC's core values is customer service.  The vegetation maintenance department recognizes the intrinsic values of treating others as they wish to be treated.  Every interaction with members is handled in this manner, and a variety of techniques are used to communicate, including phone calls, texts, emails, letters, door hangers, and social media. REC's website also is updated as needed to reflect current practices.  Members are notified by a postcard prior to the commencement of tree pruning and right-of-way work and by letter prior to herbicide application.

REC conducts phone surveys on its vegetation management efforts at the completion of each circuit.  Members are asked about the effectiveness of notification efforts and the care taken by the crew working on their properties.  Overall, the average rating of REC by members surveyed has been 8.7 out of 10 over the past five years.  Comments like this are often received:  "Working with REC has been great!" said Kyle Rhodes, land manager for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.  "The quality and communication that they have demonstrated is excellent.  From preparation to the cleanup, the work has been thorough and considerate of our site." 

REC's vegetation management department is involved in numerous community outreach events and utility forestry recognition activities.  For the 15 year, REC has been recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Line USA utility.  Last year, REC participated in the Foundation's Energy-Saving Trees program by providing its members with 180 trees that will sequester more than 700,000 pounds of carbon.  REC also participates in an Arbor Day celebration with a local school each year. 

The Bottom Line

REC's program has been successful largely because of thoughtful design and managers who understand the value of a well-funded, consistent program managed by professional foresters.  Stable costs, improved reliability, and high member satisfaction all demonstrate the program's success.   


Did You Know:

  • Every state has an official State Tree. Virginia adopted the flowering dogwood Cornaceae Cornus floridaas the State Tree on February 24, 1956.  The dogwood is well distributed throughout the...

  • Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and save 20-50 percent in heating energy.

  • Trees are the largest living organisms on earth: some coastal redwoods are more than 360 feet tall.

  • A mature tree removes almost 70 times more pollution than a newly planted tree.

  • Most tree roots are in the top 12 inches of soil.

  • Trees are some of the oldest living organisms on earth: some bristle-cone pines are thought to be more than 5000 years old.

  • Most trees do not have a tap root.

  • One large tree can provide a supply of oxygen for two people.

  • A birdhouse hung on a young tree branch, does not move up the tree as the tree grows.

  • In one day, one large tree can lift up to 100 gallons of water out of the ground and discharge it into the air.

  • Well-maintained trees and shrubs can increase property value by up to 14%.

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