Vegetation Management Efforts Underway
Sangre de Cristo Electric Association’s vegetation management efforts, focused on the Cotopaxi and Howard areas in Fremont County earlier this year, have now been shifted to Chaffee and Lake counties. Work began in June to clear the main power line from the Buena Vista substation north to the Twin Lakes substation. The clearing effort is in advance of a 2020 project to rebuild the line between the two substations, which will allow SDCEA to feed power between both substations. This will help improve the reliability and safety of electricity to consumers
Integrity Tree Services has been contracted by SDCEA to perform this work. While plans are in place for crews to return to Fremont County in 2021, the vegetation management program is an ongoing project planned for the next several years throughout SDCEA’s service territory in Chaffee, Fremont, Lake, and Custer counties.
Threat of wildfire
Locally, the threat of wildfire is high in our region. Electric lines in contact with vegetation can reach a temperature of 32,000 degrees — a temperature high enough to ignite any tree, house, shed, grass, or anything else near the line. Winds that blow in our area could then spread that fire very quickly.
The impacts of a wildfire are far-reaching, threatening human life, wildlife, our ecosystem, and our economy.
As your community electric cooperative, we at SDCEA feel the most important aspect of the vegetation management project is to protect lives. Lives are threatened and have been lost during wildfires. SDCEA is committed to doing what we can to keep our residents safe. We never want to endanger anyone in our communities. That is why we are devoting our resources to vegetation management and taking the ongoing work of this program very seriously. We value your life.
We encourage you to visit our website, under the Safety tab, click on Vegetation Management to view two links to videos we have posted documenting the tragedy of the recent Camp Fire in California. Eighty-eight people lost their lives during that wildfire, which was sparked by a power line. We must work together to avoid a similar devastating event from happening in our communities.
Many of the outages on SDCEA’s system are due to trees coming into contact with power lines. Clearing lines eliminates the potential for contact and helps maintain consistent, reliable, and safe power.
Clearing lines of vegetation creates a safer work environment for our lineworkers and gives our crews the ability to quickly look down the right-of-way to find the cause of an outage. A downed power line takes much longer to restore when crews cannot reasonably access the line or must detangle, clear, or work around obstacles caused by trees, brush, and other vegetation. To ensure reliability, SDCEA has a yearly work plan that includes upgrading and rebuilding line. Some of the vegetation on our system prevents crews from accessing lines due for an upgrade, so the vegetation must be removed.
How will this plan impact my property?
A common question we receive in the office is how to determine which trees and other vegetation will be removed by SDCEA’s contractor. Any tree trunk that is within 20 feet of the center of a power pole or line could be cut down.
If you measure that distance from side to side in total, that’s 40 feet, with the pole being in the center, 20 feet on either side. The canopy from a tree outside the 20 feet will be trimmed back to the 20 feet, but not taken out unless it is a danger tree. Danger trees are trees that are dead or alive that are leaning toward the line and that can reach the line if they fall; these trees will be removed in order to eliminate this hazard.
Crews are instructed to grind wood into mulch and spread the mulch around the site where vegetation is cut. If a homeowner prefers, crews will leave the wood in lengths for firewood. Property owners must make a firewood request to the crew before work begins on their property.
SDCEA acknowledges that our vegetation management program and the removal of trees can be very upsetting to property owners, some of whom may not support this project. We do hope there is an understanding that the goal of the project is to save lives and property. It is critically important for SDCEA to do our part to mitigate the risks of a catastrophic wildfire or other incident from occurring on one of our lines by taking these steps. Improving access to the lines also creates a safer work environment for our line crews and enhances the provision of reliable electric service to your property. Combined with the efforts of other regional emergency managers, public land agencies, and private property owners, we also hope to preserve our region’s natural beauty for years to come.
Consumers along the main power line from Buena Vista to Twin Lakes may also have contracted crews working on pole and line replacement near their property.