August 16, 2005
Trouble with the trees

CenterPoint Energy continues to catch flak for its aggressive tree-cutting policy, a topic which has drawn the Mayor's attention recently.

CenterPoint has adopted a new zero-tolerance policy for any trees taller than 10 feet under its high-voltage transmission lines. The policy is based on new guidelines by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requiring electric utilities to better manage "trees and vegetation" near such lines.

The federal regulatory agency suggested that utility companies cut trees away from power lines at least every five years. CenterPoint now trims trees under its lines on a four- to six-year cycle, said Kenny Mercado, an area manager for the company.

The agency issued the guidelines in response to findings about the massive Ohio blackout on Aug. 14, 2003.

Investigators concluded that trees touching power lines began a series of failures that caused 263 power plants to shut down. An estimated 50 million people were without electricity, some for several days.

Mercado said the 2003 blackout shows the importance of keeping transmission rights of way clear.

"In order for us to have a highly reliable system, it has to be maintained with the utmost focus on tree clearance," he said.

A power failure is especially troublesome during Houston's blazing summer, when air conditioning is key to residents' comfort and lack of it may affect their health.

I'll stipulate that power failures are bad, and avoiding them is good. That said, there are many reasons to be sensitive to trees. On an individual level, a good shade tree can help keep your own power bill down while adding value to your property - I've heard that a mature oak tree can be worth upwards of $8000 to the asking price of a house. On a macro scale, trees help dissipate Houston's heat and they're good for overall air quality. Trees are a quality of life issue, the sort of thing that can sway the do-I-want-to-live-here question, which everyone can agree on. There's got to be a compromise position somewhere between "let nature take its course" and clearcutting that will be acceptable to everyone. Let's find it. And give Trees for Houston a look to learn more about this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 16, 2005 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack