Awarded by the Arbor Day Foundation, the public utility’s honor follows a similar accolade announced last week when the municipality of Cleveland was named a Tree City USA for the 21st straight year.
Word of this year’s award came in a letter to CU President and CEO Tom Wheeler from Dan Lambe, vice president of programs for the Arbor Day Foundation.
“As a result of your commitment to effective urban forest management, your customers are already enjoying the numerous benefits of community trees, including cleaner air and water, higher property values and improved quality of life,” Lambe wrote. “Trees also conserve energy and reduce peak demand, a crucial benefit to customers and providers alike.”
Utility companies that qualify for Tree Line USA recognition must meet five core standards, all of which are geared toward promoting best practices in utility arboriculture and public education. The standards include:
1. Quality Tree Care: The utility follows industry standards for pruning, planting, removal, and trenching and tunneling near trees.
2. Annual Worker Training: The utility ensures that its employees and contract workers are trained in best practices.
3. Tree Planting and Public Education: The utility sponsors and participates in a tree planting and public education program designed to expand canopy and educate customers about proper tree planting, placement and pruning.
4. Tree-Based Energy Conservation Program: The utility has a formal tree-based energy conservation program that makes special consideration of the value of trees in conserving energy.
5. Arbor Day Celebration: The utility sponsors or participates in annual Arbor Day events and collaborates with community groups when possible.
Bart Borden, vice president of CU’s Electric Division whose crews and trimming contractor serve on the front lines in working with customers about tree overgrowth that imperils power lines, admitted this part of a utility company’s work is not always popular among customers. That’s why CU, and its tree-trimming contractor Asplundh, work closely with homeowners to help educate about preferred species and distances from utility wiring.
Borden credited Troy Ball, Asplundh general foreman, for his work with CU and its customers.
“[Troy] is our direct contact with customers and sometimes [he] has a difficult job educating them that rounding of the tree is not best for tree health and results in rapid tree growth near the power lines,” Borden said. “Troy does a fabulous job in recommending tree species that are most compatible with planting near power lines.”
One rule of thumb for homeowners, Borden noted, is that trees selected for planting near power lines should not mature greater than 25 feet in height.
Borden also credited the work of a couple of CU employees who work with customers and with the Arbor Day Foundation in keeping the utility on the front lines for Tree Line USA distinction.
“Ray McKay, a line crew supervisor, works directly with Asplundh on a daily basis in evaluating trees that could contact the power lines, tree health and maintaining records of trimming progress,” the longtime CU administrator noted. “Another key employee directly responsible for our continued success in Tree Line USA recognition is Amy Ensley.”
He added, “Amy collects and submits all the necessary documentation to be considered for this prestigious recognition. She also provides educational materials used in our customer mailings.”
CU’s work in containing tree intrusion and keeping the lights on is a parallel, year-round endeavor.
“Our employees demonstrate a very high level of commitment to foster great urban forestry care,” Borden stressed. “While our task can be unpopular with some customers, it is essential. We must trim the trees to keep the lights on.”
In speaking to Tree Line USA distinction, Borden pointed to the sometimes complicated mission of balancing reliable electrical service with property beautification, especially when it involves unhappy homeowners.
“We ask our customers to understand the necessity of this task and to give great consideration to where they plant trees and [we] encourage slow-growing trees near the power lines,” he said. “Our goals are to provide the most reliable electric service at the lowest cost and to maintain healthy trees that ultimately result in lower heating cost, clean air and a beautiful landscape for everyone to enjoy throughout our community.”
According to the Arbor Day Foundation website, the Tree Line USA program provides benefits to utility companies and to communities.
Benefits for utility companies include:
1. Lower line clearance costs resulting from proper pruning.
2. Improved rights-of-way management as a result of “right tree, right place” plantings.
3. Increased public exposure by meeting Tree Line USA requirements, resulting in community tree planting and public education.
4. Lower peak energy demand through increased canopy and better placement of trees.
5. Increased reliability of service because properly pruned and maintained trees with healthy root systems will mean less decay and structural weakness, and fewer downed lines during storms.
6. Collaborative urban forest management opportunities between the utility and other groups that impact community trees.
7. More trees will help absorb carbon dioxide produced by power plants that burn fossil fuels.
Benefits for communities include:
1. Healther and more abundant community forests.
2. Reduced tree mortality resulting from proper pruning and trenching or tunneling practices.
3. Increased reliability of service because properly pruned and maintained trees result in fewer downed lines during storms.
4. Reduced energy costs to consumers through strategically planted trees for energy conservation and a broader urban forest canopy.
5. Reduced heat island effect as a result of more shaded pavement.
John Rosenow, founder and chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation, pointed to the significance of trees, not only to people but to the communities they call home.
“Trees are a critical part of urban landscapes all across the United States,” Rosenow said. “Service providers like Cleveland Utilities show that taking care of urban trees is good for business, for customers and for the broader community.”
In his letter to Wheeler confirming CU’s 13th consecutive designation, Lambe described Tree Line USA as a collaboration between the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters.
Lambe stressed Tree Line USA, “... promotes the dual goals of delivering safe and reliable electricity while maintaining healthy community trees.” He said utility companies that follow Tree Line USA standards, “... not only help provide beautiful trees for the future, but also yield long-term savings for customers.”