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It’s about the outages that don’t happen: Behind the scenes with PSEG Long Island’s Vegetation Management team

Mark Cerqueira, manager of Vegetation Management, PSEG Long Island

Vegetation Management, like many roles in PSEG Long Island’s overall mission of providing safe, reliable electric service, is a challenging job. Foresters and tree trimmers have to perform work in difficult terrain, sometimes in rear properties where access is limited, in hot and cold weather.

It’s also challenging because, when we do our jobs, customers won’t notice any change in their electric service. We’re all modern human beings: If the lights and the coffeemaker don’t turn on in the morning, if the WiFi is out, our day is hopelessly scrambled. However, if tree limbs are properly cleared from the vicinity of electric wires, and the power is uninterrupted, it’s just another normal day in Hauppauge or Levittown or Great Neck.

Over the past several years, I believe our efforts have helped many more people have normal days on Long Island and in the Rockaways. While no two years ever have the exact same weather patterns, the reliability statistics tell a positive story: Excluding major storm events, there were 512 fewer tree-related incidents in 2021 than there were in 2015, and 75,965 fewer customers experienced outages as a result of tree-related incidents.

Here are just a few things the Vegetation Management team does behind the scenes to ensure our customers have safe, reliable power.

Identifying hazards before there’s a problem

The work we do in Vegetation Management is much, much more than piecemeal tree trimming. Every year, we inspect all 1,300 miles of transmission lines for tree encroachment — twice. And PSEG Long Island has a robust “prescriptive” tree trim program that ensures our distribution lines are completely trimmed on a four-year cycle. That means our crews go out and inspect about 2,200 miles of distribution lines a year, before the trimming begins on them, to identify specific problem areas and offer guidance to the contractor crews before they drive out to begin the trimming work.

Protecting trees’ health

It’s our goal to maintain healthy trees whenever we can, while also implementing an enhanced trim cycle to keep power lines clear. PSEG Long Island contractors are required to trim according to standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Best Management Practices defined by the International Society of Arboriculture. In fact, this year, we once again won the Tree Line USA Award from the Arbor Day Foundation for our tree trimming practices.

Trim to Sky

Vegetation Management is always looking for ways to make the biggest difference with our trimming. That means removing tree overhangs at the most vulnerable part of our circuits—the portion of distribution lines that stretch from a substation to the first switch. That’s where, if a tree or branch were to come down on the wires, it would take out the entire circuit, instead of just a portion. We launched this initiative as  a pilot program last year, so it’s still relatively new. We plan to implement it on all 329 distribution circuits we will trim this year, and we are excited to see the results — or, rather, not see them, since success will look like fewer tree-related lockouts of our circuits during severe weather.

Wire-friendly tree replacement

While much of our job in Vegetation Management is trimming limbs and removing hazard trees, our team loves trees for the way they help the environment and beautify our communities. Where we are able, we have begun working with local officials to replace older, taller municipal trees with a variety of native, ornamental species that do not grow tall enough to threaten the electric lines that pass directly overhead.

After consulting with Floral Park officials, PSEG Long Island’s Vegetation Management team and its contractors recently removed 21 pin oaks along Plainfield Avenue in the village, replacing them with crepe myrtles, redbuds and cherry trees. Funded through PSEG Long Island’s storm-hardening budget, the project is expected to make some of Floral Park’s mainline electric circuits more reliable and resilient during severe weather, and it should save about $12,000 per year in costs associated with line inspections.

Where possible, we look forward to other opportunities to work with villages and towns to create these win-win outcomes in which neighborhoods are beautified and system reliability improves

Building relationships with local government

Building solid relationships with the officials in the villages and towns we serve is another important, unseen task that Vegetation Management takes seriously. Every community has different concerns and different topography. We try very hard to keep the same, steady crew in every yard so that mayors, public works directors and other officials know our people—and so that our people know the nuances of the area. It enables us to minimize confusion during blue-sky tree trim work, and it can even help us during storm restoration when we can coordinate with local officials for support with flaggers or temporary road closures.  

Proud of our work

It takes a special sort of person to be a part of PSEG Long Island Vegetation Management. While we come from many different backgrounds, we are united by our love for trees and commitment to finding mutually beneficial solutions while improving system reliability. We have strong bonds, deep experience and low turnover, and you may have seen our employees acting as community ambassadors in recent years, planting trees in parks and helping to strengthen the places where we live and work. We are proud of the work we do, proud of our team, and proud to be part of PSEG Long Island.

PSEG Long Island