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.