House bill would give utilities broader tree-trimming power

Thursday, February 22, 2007
Paul Swaim, with Shade Tree Service Co., of Fenton, Mo., contracted by AmerenUE, trimmed an oak tree's ice-covered branches Jan. 19 in Kirksville, Mo. (Al Maglio ~ Associated Press)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Electric companies would have broader power to trim trees near power lines, even without a landowner's permission, under legislation a House panel began considering Wednesday.

The bill follows a series of winter storms that disrupted power to hundreds of thousands around Missouri, some for a week or more.

Sponsoring Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, said tree-trimming problems are a long-running issue, but the added authority for power companies may have a better chance this year with the recent outages on everyone's minds.

"People that really were against it last summer changed their mind around the 20th of January" after being without power because of the winter storms, quipped Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, a co-sponsor of the bill.

The legislation allows utilities to trim trees and other vegetation within certain distances of their power lines. Those distances, ranging from 10 to 75 feet on each side, are determined by whether the lines are in a city or county and how much power they carry.

The legislation also allows utilities to trim further if needed to maintain reliable power, as long as owners get a week's notice before trimming.

"It is incumbent that utilities be able to maintain their power lines and keep them free of trees and vegetation," Schad said.

Schad said the goals are to ensure a more reliable power supply and to give electric companies and homeowners the same set of rules across the state so all know what to expect.

Chuck Caisley, president of the Missouri Energy Development Association, the trade group for investor-owned utilities such as Ameren Corp. and Aquila Inc., also supported the bill but warned it won't solve all problems with power outages.

"Trimming trees is not a panacea," he said. "There's no one or two things you can do to ensure complete reliability of a system."

Mike Torres, chief executive officer of the Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative, said his co-op works to get easements to allow for trimming when it builds new power lines. But problems arise with lines in older areas, where trees have grown and homeowners have changed over the years.

Other legislation also has been proposed in the wake of power outages, including bills requiring companies to provide refunds to customers who lost power for a certain time period.

Schad planned to make some changes to the bill, and the committee was expected to vote on sending the measure to the House floor at its meeting next week.

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