UI Tree Plan Panned
Upset at the prospect of their roads being bared of trees, about 150 residents turned out Wednesday night for a meeting with United Illuminating officials about its plans to remove trees surrounding utility poles.
The utility gained approvals last year to implement the plan to clear within an eight foot diameter around utility poles in an effort to curtail outages during and after storms.
"We had some major events in the past two half years," said Jim Cole, UI's director of operations and maintenance, "and we have been studying and investigated the response" to storm events in other areas.
Research shows that customers want to be communicated with throughout storm events concerning when power would be restored, he said.
"We are working on developing restoration technology," he said. But the core of the problem rests with what causes the majority of outages -- felled trees near power lines.
"We have found out in these past four events that our system vulnerable to extreme weather," he said, including tropical storms and hurricanes. "The systems built as is are good for average weather but when you get to tropical storm force winds and ice storms and snow storms in October, we come find out we are vulnerable out there."
It's virtually impossible to move the system underground, he said. Doing so could double customer's bills, he said, and logistics would make it extremely difficult.
That's why they're implementing the tree removal program, he said.
"This program we believe is the most cost effective means to prevent and reduce the impact significantly enough to be meaningful to customers and not impact their bill too much," he said.
It's not known how many trees will be impacted, he said. Already, homeowners have agreed to allow the removal of 56 trees on private property, he said, and trim 80 more.
"You can rest assured UI cannot just come out and cut your trees," he said.
But Ridge Road resident Don Trella questioned the timing.
"Why now? It seems you have manufactured crisis," he said. "It just so happened that a couple of serious winter storms happened in close succession and it seems as if now the utility companies are grasping the opportunity to say now that we have had these power outages this is the perfect time to pawn off this tree removal plan — now we can get people to buy on to this.
"These storms simply don't happen that often," he said. "It just so happens a couple have happened recently. I think this is an overreaction to start tearing up all the vegetation that might be in any way close to the road just to prevent this again."
He also questioned who would benefit financially from the program in light of the prediction that removing the trees would save UI money in the long run.
"I'm curious to know how much of that savings will be passed on to the consumers," he said.