Clark Public Utilities works hard year-round to deliver reliable, at-cost energy, but despite our best efforts, outages are bound to happen on occasion.
Between now and March is when the year’s most significant storms typically hit the Pacific Northwest. But the weather itself is rarely the cause behind a power outage — more often than not, it’s the trees or branches that couldn’t withstand the storm.
“Trees and tree limbs cause more than half of all the outages our customers experience,” said Clark Public Utilities Forestry Maintenance Manager Paul Wienecke. “It’s part of what comes with the territory when you live so close to nature. But we still work hard to reduce outage frequency, and our customers are a big part of that.”
Wienecke manages the utility’s vegetation management program, which monitors, trims, and occasionally removes vegetation along more than 1,500 miles of power lines throughout Clark County. The utility takes a proactive but ecologically conscious approach to its vegetation management program.
The journeyman tree trimmers employed by the utility are a select group of skilled arborists qualified to trim around high voltage lines where precision cuts are critical. Each undergoes more than 40 hours of annual training on safety and proper pruning techniques to maximize safety for the public and preservation of the tree’s health.
When done correctly, each pruning will keep branches a safe distance away from overhead power lines while ensuring the tree continues to grow healthy, strong and sturdy.
This careful approach has earned Clark Public Utilities the honor of being a Tree Line USA utility by the Arbor Day Foundation 22 years in a row.
This commitment to public safety and correct pruning techniques ensures Clark Public Utilities’ customers experience fewer and significantly shorter outages than many other people in the country. According to 2018 data from the American Public Power Association, the average outage in Clark County is just 35 minutes long, compared to the national average of 329 minutes.
“But we’re always continuing to look for ways to improve our performance,” Wienecke said. “We recently ran a couple of pilot studies using drone photography and LIDAR mapping to explore more precise and cost-effective techniques to manage our operations.”
No matter how advanced the tools become, customer reports will always be among the most valuable. We regularly respond to requests from customers about trees that present a danger to our power system. These reports are taken very seriously, and all trimming related to primary power lines is performed free of charge.
Customers who are concerned that a tree could affect power lines should call the utility’s customer service line at 360-992-3000. The representative will ask a series of questions and triage the request. Customers can also report the tree at ClarkPublicUtilities.com by searching for “request a tree trimming.” It only takes a few minutes to complete the form. A utility employee may follow up with you if more information is needed.
“It’s our policy to respond to trim requests within seven business days,” Wienecke said. “We’ll do a site assessment shortly after the report is received, which allows us to decide on how best to move forward and schedule a tree trimming crew if needed.”
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.