Increase in Outages Linked to Tree Health

Over the last three months, Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) has seen a drastic increase in outages due to trees and tree limbs falling. From March to June 2016 there were only 211 power outages linked to trees across our 17 county service area. This year there were 935 outages during the same three months as a result of trees and/or limbs falling. What has changed over the last 12 months?

While we have had a surplus of rain falling this year, last year East Tennessee experienced a drought of historic proportions. The natural heavy foliage of eastern Tennessee combined with an extended lack of rain, created a competition for water resources that left many large trees in a weakened stressed condition. When those weakened trees meet with a spring of unusually strong storms, they will fall.

VEC spends approximately 6 million of its overall budget just to maintain our right of ways. Even with ROW crews working year-round to eliminate danger trees, contract crews spraying heavily wooded areas before they become hazards, and servicemen responding to calls regarding trees in our 40-foot ROW; when a drought-weakened tree becomes stressed by storm winds, it will fall and bring down power lines.

Steve Scott VEC Right of Way Superintendent and Arborist stated, “This year’s storms have been extremely hard on the trees in our service areas. We normally have storms that are predominantly southern-wind storms. In the spring of 2017, the majority of our storms have had winds from the north. This is not typical, and on the trees already weakened from last year’s drought it has been catastrophic.”

VEC is not the only organization dealing with this problem. A recent The Associated Press article stated that officials in Chattanooga, Tennessee, say the number of large trees falling…has risen significantly following last summer’s drought and weather fluctuation in the last few years.

Large Tree in McMinn Loses Limb
Large tree in McMinn County loses a limb that is over 4 feet in diameter during a storm and power goes out for 4,000 members.
Large Tree Brings Down Steel Pole
The shallow root base is shown clearing on this toppled tree that brought down a 69 KVa line and power was out for approximately 4,000 members.