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A tree hit a transmission line in 2003 and triggered a blackout for 50 million people, bringing to light the seriousness of vegetation management in rights of way. Unlike smaller distribution power lines, high-voltage lines are larger structures that serve as the backbone of the state’s electric system. The federal government audits utilities’ inspection and vegetation management programs, and utilities face major fines for non-compliance.
Most species of shrubs, vegetables and grasses are allowed in rights of way as long as they do not prevent access to, or use of, the right of way. Trees, however, must be kept away from power lines and are subject to many federal safety and reliability regulations. No vegetation is allowed on the easement that may reach a mature height above 15 feet. In all cases, the area in a 25-foot radius around all poles and structures must be undisturbed.
Please see a list of approved species on our plantings brochure or call our Control Center at (800) 241-5375 if you have questions.
Georgia Transmission regularly inspects its rights of way by ground and air. Among the least popular things we do is pruning and removing trees that pose a potential threat to the electric system. Since tree limbs contacting power lines can cause outages and blackouts, vegetation on our easements is restricted to no more than 15 feet at maturity. Also, dead, dying, diseased or leaning trees along rights of way must be removed. While some trees might seem small and unthreatening, our policies anticipate up to twenty feet of sag on a fully loaded transmission line, an additional safety margin, the movement of the line and trees in high winds and future growth to determine vegetation maintenance. Removing trees can be upsetting to landowners, so our crews attempt to notify owners in advance. Because of the seriousness of the liabilities a utility faces, please contact your electric utility before planting near rights of way.
Grasses, weeds and plants in rights of way are maintained on a multi-year cycle, by mowing or hand-spraying herbicides. The herbicides we use are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for retail sale. Herbicides reduce soil compaction, erosion and sedimentation and leave nesting animals undisturbed. Property owners are asked to place vegetation in obvious landscaped areas to avoid crews mistaking them for natural growth. And a 25-foot radius around poles and structures should remain undisturbed.
To improve wildlife habitat, landowners, leaseholders, clubs and wildlife groups are eligible for up to $1,350 for three years of maintaining a right of way. See the USDA’s WINGS brochure for this Natural Resources Conservation Services’ program called Wildlife Incentives for Non-game and Game Species (WINGS). Project WINGS is supported by Georgia’s electric utilities and several environmental groups, including the Atlanta Chapter of the Audubon Society and the Georgia Conservancy.