Trees and power lines don’t mix

Vegetation management, which entails keeping the areas around power lines clear, helps ensure a reliable electric system. It also helps prevent fires, and keeps people and property safe.


One tree. 55 million people without power. A $6 billion economic hit.

In 2003, one single tree touching a transmission line in Ohio is all it took to bring about the largest power outage in U.S. history. Within five hours on a hot August day, power was down in eight northeastern states and parts of Canada.

Fifteen years later, California’s deadliest and most destructive fire in history was the result of a utility’s failure to keep power lines clear of trees or vegetation. The 2018 Camp Fire, as it was called, ravaged Northern California, killing at least 85 people, destroying nearly 19,000 buildings, and charring an area the size of Chicago. Total damage is estimated at $16.5 billion.

Closer to home – in Basin Electric’s service area – South Dakota’s 2017 Legion Lake fire started in the Black Hills when a 35-foot tree fell across a power line owned by a non-cooperative utility. The fast-spreading fire burned 84-square miles before its containment.

All of these incidents demonstrate the importance of keeping the area around transmission lines clear.

High-voltage transmission lines are the backbone of how Basin Electric keeps electricity flowing. The co-op’s vegetation management program, which maintains the areas around power lines, helps prevent unnecessary power disruptions, and keeps people and property safe.

“We’re not cutting down trees because we like to cut trees,” says Paul Kaiser, Basin Electric assistant line superintendent for North Dakota. “We’re doing it for the reliability of the power lines, and to make it safer for the landowner and for the land itself. We’re helping landowners save their million-dollar crop – or other property – so it doesn’t start on fire. We’re here to help.”

Read more about vegetation management in the Basin Today Summer Issue: Vegetation management – A clear path for reliable electricity.

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