Trimming Trees Now Keeps the Power on Later

Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) provides energy to 120,000 homes and businesses in 17 counties. To keep the power on, we maintain 10,000 miles of power lines. Lined up end to end, our lines would stretch across the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans 3 times.


Keeping these powerlines maintained and functional is not an inexpensive undertaking. We invest more than $6 million each year, maintaining the Right of Way. It may surprise you that one of our most significant expenses on average is not poles or wire but trimming trees.


Reliable energy is essential to the co-op and to the homes and businesses we serve. Keeping trees and other vegetation safely away from power lines is crucial for our ongoing system maintenance. While some power outages are out of our control – things such as car accidents or lightning – many outages can be prevented by making sure trees and other vegetation are kept well away from the lines.


Each year the co-op and our tree-trimming contractors clear limbs and brush and in some cases remove entire trees that are too close to the lines or near other electrical equipment. They carefully follow guidelines and best practices provided by the International Society of Arboriculture.


“It’s pretty simple,” says Brad Rhea, Right-of-Way Superintendent. “When trees and other vegetation get too close to the lines, it will result in a power outage. One tree could knock out the power for a hundred homes. Keeping them away from the lines is necessary to keep the lights on.”


Proper right-of-way maintenance is a good investment that keeps the lights on for our consumer-members. “To keep everyone in our community safe, our distribution system is designed to cut the power when it detects a contact with the power line,” says Rhea. “We can’t tell if the contact is from a child flying a kite, a car accident or a limb brushing against the line. This means that trees and limbs can knock out the power even if they don’t break the lines. If they do break the lines, the outage can last even longer. That’s why it is so important to keep vegetation away from the lines.”


In addition to planning and managing the ROW program, Brad Rhea works to educate our members on the ‘right tree in the right place.’ The best prevention is to plant the right tree far enough to prevent it from becoming a problem or safety hazard for the power lines. The University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension office prepared the following guidelines for power line-friendly tree planting:

■ Small trees – 30 feet or less– should be planted at least 10 feet from buildings and 20 to 25 feet away from power lines.

■ Medium trees – 30 to 70 feet in height – should be planted at least 15 feet from buildings and 30 to 35 feet from power lines.

■ Large trees – those reaching 70 feet or more in height – should be planted at least 25 feet from buildings and 40 to 45 feet from power lines.

■ No tree trunk, no matter how small the tree, should be within 10 feet of a utility pole.


Co-op members can help maintain a reliable flow of electricity in your community by reporting any potential problems you see. It’s also important to be understanding when tree trimming crews are working on or near your property – the work they are doing impacts both you and your neighbors. Though co-ops like VEC have the right to inspect and maintain power lines without property owners’ consent, we make every effort to contact property owners to discuss the work ahead of time.


From homes to hospitals and farms to factories, much of our lives depend on reliable energy. Power is essential to maintain health, safety, comfort, productivity and connection, and VEC is passionate about fulfilling our responsibility and meeting your expectations.