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Clearing A Path For Electricity

  A secret to keeping your lights on is keeping trees and brush away from power lines. That keeps windblown trees from toppling poles, and makes it easier for repair crews to drive to trouble spots.

  Utilities call that keeping the right-of-ways clear. A right-of-way is that several dozen feet on each side of a power line that utilities have a right to walk on, drive on, and keep cleared. It’s essential to keep the electricity flowing.

  Several electric cooperatives in Kentucky are finding better and cheaper ways to keep those paths cleared. One of the latest is Danville-based Inter-County Energy Cooperative. Inter-County is using advanced chemicals that don’t overkill plants, land only where they’re aimed, and don’t spread through the soil.

  “This chemical stays where you put it. There’s no off-target problems,” says Ken Slone, owner of Bowman Tree Service, which clears right-of-ways for Inter-County and some surrounding electric co-ops. He adds that the chemical is gentle enough so that the only recommended protection for workers is to wear long-sleeved shirts. 

  In fact, these new chemicals leave much of the grass alive under the power lines. And one year after spraying, many of the areas break out in natural displays of wildflowers.

  It works like this: a tree-cutting machine comes in and pretty much scrapes the ground under the power lines down to stubble. One year later crews either walk through with backpack sprayers or drive through on an all-terrain vehicle, spraying the trees that have started to sprout. That’s the last time they will have to clear that right-of-way for five years, when workers will drive through with another chemical application, rather than sending in an expensive tree-cutting machine.

  Glen Southerland, maintenance superintendent at Inter-County, says, “By applying this technique, less cutting work done by machines is required, therefore keeping costs to members down.”

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