“Receiving the ROW Stewardship Council’s reaccreditation is a significant accomplishment for BPA. It’s a validation of the importance and quality of our vegetation management program. I’m proud of our recognition as a leader in the utility industry for the work we do to protect our transmission system, the environment, the customers we serve and the greater public who rely on BPA.”Chuck Sheppard, supervisory natural resource specialist
High-voltage power lines crisscross the Northwest through majestic landscapes and even our backyards. They are a necessary staple of our region’s reliable power supply. As a transmission operator, the Bonneville Power Administration has a duty to the region to keep the rights-of-way underneath and along its power lines safe. It takes diligence and hard work to manage the risks.
For its implementation of industry best practices, the Right-of-Way Stewardship Council recently reaccredited BPA for another five years.
In 2014, BPA was the first federal power marketing administration to receive accreditation for its use of integrated vegetation management from the ROW Stewardship Council. BPA’s vegetation management program is responsible for keeping more than 15,000 miles of transmission lines free and clear of trees and brush that could cause reliability issues.
“Receiving the ROW Stewardship Council’s reaccreditation is a significant accomplishment for BPA,” said Chuck Sheppard, supervisory natural resource specialist. “It’s a validation of the importance and quality of our vegetation management program. I’m proud of our recognition as a leader in the utility industry for the work we do to protect our transmission system, the environment, the customers we serve and the greater public who rely on BPA.”
BPA maintains this accreditation through a coordinated effort between Transmission Vegetation Management and Technical and Regional Services groups, which ensure BPA’s place as a trustworthy steward for the region.
Integrated vegetation management is a system of managing plant communities in which compatible and incompatible vegetation are identified, action thresholds are considered, control methods are evaluated, and selected controls are implemented to achieve a specific objective. Considering effectiveness, environmental impact, site characteristics, safety, security and economics determines the choice of control methods.
BPA performs vegetation management to establish sustainable, low-growing native plant communities that require lower long-term maintenance costs. A low-growing plant community typically consists of herbaceous flowering plants and shrubs. However, in most of BPA’s service territory, the dominant plant community is forests. Left unchecked, the forest will grow in the rights-of-way, increasing the risk of trees coming in close proximity with the lines.
“Not only does BPA’s integrated vegetation management help the agency deliver reliable low-cost energy to our customers, it also supports the agency’s mission of environmental stewardship, said Chris Morse, supervisory natural resource specialist. “It also guards against the increasing risk of wildland fires we are experiencing across our service territory.”
In the mid-1990s, outages occurred on the federal system due to extreme summer heat that caused the power lines to sag, resulting in trees coming too close to power lines. The vegetation management program evolved in response to this crisis and now plays a critical role in BPA’s ability to provide safe, reliable service to our customers.
Failure to maintain clear rights-of-way can result in damage to the grid, worker injuries, devastating wildfires or cascading blackouts similar to the blackout that occurred in the Northeastern United States in 2003.
BPA’s integrated vegetation management program complies with North American Electric Reliability Council reliability standards and is based on the Transmission System Vegetation Management Program Environmental Impact Statement, which establishes planning steps for managing vegetation for specific projects.
A regular maintenance cycle and clearing on easements helps keep transmission corridors clear of brush, a fuel for wildfires. To perform this work, BPA contracts vegetation clearing crews that comply with all state and federal laws and regulations pertaining to fire prevention. They also carry firefighting equipment, use chainsaws with spark arresters and provide a fire watcher when necessary.
Additionally, the contract crews manage the debris to minimize fire hazards by cutting, lopping and scattering branches, which disperses the potential fuel and maximizes the contact with the ground to promote decomposition. The natural resource specialists developing the annual work plan consider the risk of fire and the environmental restrictions associated with threatened and endangered species.
Because of considering fire risks, BPA’s practice of applying bare ground herbicide around wood structures was instrumental in reducing the impact on wood poles during a 2018 fire near the Celilo Converter Station in The Dalles, Oregon. The herbicide cleared the areas around the wood poles, and resulted in minimal damage when the fire passed through the right-of-way.
In the event of an active fire, such as the Eagle Creek fire in the fall of 2017, the vegetation management team works closely with transmission lineworkers and the fire incident commander to perform additional clearing around substations and other critical infrastructure. Post-fire work includes clearing dead and burnt trees from BPA access roads and removing trees that would impact BPA transmission lines if they fell. The team uses ground tree felling crews and a helicopter to top trees in an inaccessible area to minimize the risk of dead trees falling and contacting the conductor, helping to prevent future outages.
Through its elite vegetation management program, BPA is prepared to address the reliability and safety risks that overgrowth creates on its extensive transmission system. And as fire season approaches in the hot months, the vegetation management team is prepared to combat the threat.
A helicopter with a suspended saw trims trees along EWEB’s Carmen Smith tap line to mitigate impacts that can lead to outages and wildfires.
CAISO officially approved BPA’s entrance into Market Simulation testing, the next step to make sure it’s ready for the EIM.
Line crews rapidly deployed to areas where transmission and fiber customers experienced service interruptions as wildfires swept across parts of BPA’s service territory.