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Merging Management Programs

EnergyUnited was created via the merger of two electric membership cooperatives. One of the challenges in merging the two was integrating the distinctly different right-of-way (ROW) programs. Forming the ideal plan for the new company took research, a desire to learn, strong partnerships and clear goals.
 

EnergyUnited — once Davidson Electric Membership Corporation and Crescent Electric Membership Corporation — is now the third largest supplier of residential electricity in North Carolina, serving more than 119,000 electricity customers in 19 counties. Formed in 1998, EnergyUnited faced the challenge of combining two different vegetation management programs into a single, solid program that delivered financial, environmental, ecological and operational results.
 

Davidson had adopted integrated vegetation management (IVM) in 1992, and Crescent was just beginning to implement the concept into operations. The first step in bringing the two programs together was to establish clear goals. The main goal for EnergyUnited as one company was to have an effective IVM program that was cost-effective to the company and to customers.
 

Being a good steward of the environment was also part of EnergyUnited's new culture. So the company sought ways to preserve and conserve treasured aspects of rural North Carolina, such as animal and plant life, and clean air and water.
 

Getting Started
 

Jimmy Brown, director of maintenance services for EnergyUnited, researched and networked within the utility vegetation management community to create an integrated program that would work for the newly formed company. Through meetings with the North Carolina Vegetation Management Association (NCVMA), National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), Utility Arborist Association (UAA), International Association of Arboriculture (ISA), contractors and manufacturers, EnergyUnited began its vegetation management program planning.
 

"The cooperative spent considerable time networking with manufacturers and contractors who were working on test plots with branded products," said Brown. "This allowed us the opportunity to evaluate product results before making our final decision regarding which products we were going to use."
 

Implementation
 

With the help of NWTF, EnergyUnited implemented a process that evaluated the ROWs for species composition, density, height, access, terrain and adjoining land uses. This careful evaluation allowed EnergyUnited to identify the undesirable species from those it wanted to keep. Undesirable species were defined as those that could potentially grow into the overhead conductors, causing a momentary blink, an outage or potential safety concerns.
 

Brown chose to use an integrated program that employed mowing and cutting ROWs followed by low-volume herbicide applications using Krenite®, Arsenal® PowerLine™ herbicide and Escort®. Using low-volume herbicide applications was the cornerstone of the plan to convert ROWs to an early successional plant habitat.
 

Brown worked with Osmose Utilities Services, Inc., a Quality Vegetation Management™ (QVM) Certified Applicator, on the herbicide applications. Brown emphasized that a key element in achieving a successful integrated program is the selection of a contractor that has the same objectives as the utility.
 

"Osmose's participation and cooperation has added credibility to the program as their principles and practices closely align with those of EnergyUnited," said Brown.
 

"The safety factor is a critical component, for both environmental aspects and personnel involved in the work," said Patrick Kraft, director of sales for Osmose. "Osmose and EnergyUnited both have a strong safety culture, which allows for a synergistic relationship between the two organizations."
 

Ivm Cost-efficiency

The graph shown here represents EnergyUnited savings resulting from using IVM management techniques for ROW corridors. The mow/cut data is based on three-year intervals of mowing and cutting. The IVM data is based on a mow/cut cycle in the first year, followed by a herbicide treatment in the second year. Additional spray cycles follow at six and nine years.
 

The relationship shown on the graph demonstrates the cost-efficiency of an IVM program. As stem density reduces, less maintenance is required, thus lowering the costs associated with maintenance of the ROW. These lower costs are demonstrated with the relatively flat nature of the IVM curve. The mow/cut curve has a much steeper slope, since the cumulative costs for maintaining the ROW increase over time. The mowed or cut stems continue to grow, usually becoming denser and more numerous with each subsequent cycle, thus requiring added maintenance and costs.
 

The data used here is based on actual results from work performed on a utility ROW starting in 2004. It is presented as an illustration here to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of using IVM approaches to ROW management. Actual results will vary from utility to utility, as the influencing factors associated with a given ROW will be different.

 

Phenomenal Results
 

Today, EnergyUnited has converted its ROW corridors to a compatible plant community that is less expensive to maintain. Current cost estimates indicate a savings of $55,000 on every 1,000 miles of circuit managed with integrated techniques. Duration of outages has also decreased as ROW access has improved.

"In terms of system reliability, maintaining the ROWs is imperative," said Brown. "A decline in system reliability means we're not meeting set goals for the year, losing revenue while service is down, and increasing the amount of labor spent on outage restoration. Although service restoration is not a vegetation management cost, it can still be directly or indirectly related to vegetation conditions and be considered when making decisions on ROW maintenance."
 

Environmental
 

Effective herbicide application has greatly reduced mowing and hand-cutting activities on the EnergyUnited ROWs. Low-volume application techniques have reduced the need for heavier equipment use, thus reducing fossil fuel emissions. Less equipment traffic and conversion to a more prolific herbaceous plant cover also has reduced soil erosion potential and improved water in adjacent watersheds.
 

Ecological
 

Biodiversity in plant and wildlife populations on EnergyUnited ROWs is a key indicator of ecological improvement. This has been noted by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Agency, as it has worked with EnergyUnited in regard to three plant species registered on the federal endangered plant species list: Michaux's Sumac, Schweinitz's Sunflower and Georgia Aster.
 

"An impressive variety of songbirds have been documented inside or directly adjacent to the treated ROWs by the North Caroline Wildlife Resources Commission," said Mark Johns, a biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission's Partners in Flight wildlife diversity program. "Of particular importance is the high number of field sparrows, a species of conservation concern in the state, found during the breeding season."
 

Turkeys, deer, rabbits, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and dragonflies continue to use the ROW areas for foraging, cover and travel corridors.
 

"Many agencies and wildlife groups promote the management of ROWs for native low-growing or early successional habitat for animals, birds and plants," said Jay Jordan, Energy for Wildlife coordinator, NWTF.
 

"Many rare wildlife species use the early successional and edge habitat available on ROWs managed with IVM techniques. These same techniques also help control invasive plants," according to Jordan. "This is becoming a more important issue, with emphasis placed on controlling these unwanted plants because of their competition with native — and usually more beneficial — plants and destruction of wildlife habitat."
 

Operational
 

EnergyUnited is now entering the third cycle of herbicide applications on many of their ROWs. The measure of reduction in incompatible species is reflected in the volume of herbicide solution being applied. Initial application efforts required high-volume applications often exceeding 100 gallons per treated acre. Recent application efforts were at or below 6 gallons per treated acre. This has resulted in volumes of less than 15 gallons per mile of ROW.
 

Working Together to Make It Happen
 

By applying its own internal expertise to the planning process and seeking outside counsel from NWTF, Quails Unlimited, BASF Professional Vegetation Management (BetterVM) and other industry organizations, EnergyUnited was successful in developing a new integrated program that not only met the operational and financial goals, but also the ecological and environmental goals that Davidson and Crescent shared.
 

More Information
 

For more information on NWTF's Energy for Wildlife program, visit www.nwtf.org. To find meetings in your area or for more information on vegetation management programs, planning and execution, visit these helpful websites:
 

BASF Professional Vegetation Management: www.vmanswers.com
Utility Arborist Association: www.utilityarborist.org
International Association of Arboriculture: www.isa-arbor.com
Escort and Krenite are registered trademarks of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. Arsenal is a registered trademark of BASF. PowerLine, Quality Vegetation Management and Project Habitat are trademarks of BASF.