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Clearing a path for superior service

by on August 30, 2016
brandon hull spotlight

Portsmouth Utility Forester Brandon’s job is to maintain the areas around the company’s lines and equipment. For example, in the summer months he uses teams to spray herbicides on unwanted vegetation that grows around AEP Ohio’s equipment.

When you think of the ingredients that go into creating a positive customer experience, the forestry department sounds way off the mark. How can maintaining trees have an impact on the electric service you receive in your home?

In fact, utility foresters like Brandon in Portsmouth, Ohio are essential to delivering our company’s promise to provide top-notch electric service to our customers.

Brandon is responsible for managing the right-of-way (an area surrounding a power line kept clear from trees, brush or any other kind of debris) of every power line in southern Ohio. That means each tree or branch that might make contact with a power line is his responsibility.

Brandon’s contribution to keeping the lights on in Ohio is integral. Since 2010, we’ve reduced the number of outages caused by trees inside our rights-of-way from 2,700 to 531 – an 80 percent improvement. And when we keep trees and vegetation away from our equipment, the rewards are huge.

“The biggest contribution that our forestry department can give to our customers is uninterrupted power,” Brandon says. “If power is lost and our rights-of-way are in good shape, it’s much quicker and easier for our line mechanics to identify the issue, make repairs and restore power.”

With more than 2,300 miles of power lines in portions of Adams, Scioto, Pike, Lawrence, Jackson and Gallia counties, Brandon has his hands full when it comes to identifying problem areas and making sure the trees are properly maintained.

In addition to overseeing contractors doing tree clearing work, Brandon works with engineers to clear areas around new construction projects. He also meets with customers one-on-one to discuss any concerns they have for work being done around their land.

“My typical day starts with meeting with my work planners at the office to discuss current issues on the circuits they’re working on,” Brandon says. “But for the rest of my work I head to the field.”

Out there, he inspects work zones and manages teams to ensure their safety and the safety of anyone near the project areas.

Frequently, forestry departments will utilize aerial tree-trimming methods to clear vegetation. This involves bringing out a helicopter with a specialized saw fixed beneath it. Despite the first impressions that this machine gives off, aerial tree-trimming is actually a safer alternative to normal methods of climbing dense trees and cutting back limbs. Contractor pilots, for example, are required to fly every other month to keep their senses well-tuned.

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Aerial tree trimming is one tool against huge masses of unwanted limbs along power lines. Wires along the edges of forests would be vulnerable to damage without efficient tools like these specially outfitted helicopters.

Brandon’s work also results in positive changes for southern Ohio’s diverse ecosystem. “In densely forested areas like my service territory,” he says, “our rights-of-way add great value to the wildlife’s food and cover needs. We have a vegetation management plan in place that uses best practices to help create biodiversity. Controlling undesired species and promoting grasses and wildflowers benefits birds, bees, deer and turkeys, to name a few.”

“We all like to see wildflowers growing where there once was a dense wall of brush, vines and briars.”

When deciding which trees may be trimmed and which have to go, foresters like Brandon follow rigorous trimming standards put in place by independent experts and regulators. This makes sure that AEP Ohio’s tree-trimming practices only remove what is absolutely necessary to keep the network healthy and reliable.

But ensuring that the forestry department’s work is done safely and efficiently is Brandon’s most important job. His business is caring for his fellow employees and caring for the customers who live and work under the lines every day.

“The added safety factor that is created by a well-maintained infrastructure is immeasurable,” Brandon says. “AEP foresters help make the lines safer for the public and our co-workers. Whether a line crew is performing storm restoration or routine maintenance, a well-maintained right-of-way is always much safer.”

That’s how utility foresters make a difference, and that’s why they’re one more essential piece to our strategy to provide the best service we possibly can.

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