Large Investment Major Results

Aggressive Right-of-Way Program Paying Off

July 27, 2020

As Stearns Electric Association wraps up its last year of a four-year vegetation management project, the results are starting to show: tree-related outages and service orders have declined over the last three years.

In 2016, Stearns Electric hired ACRT, an independent utility vegetation management company, to assess the Cooperative’s right-of-way maintenance program. Right-of-way (ROW) refers to a strip of land underneath or around power lines that electric utilities have the right and responsibility to keep clear. ACRT used mathematical algorithms to analyze over 2,600 miles of power lines and provided a precise analysis of the ROW needs for our distribution system.

After taking the study results into consideration, Stearns Electric then hired ACRT and Carr’s Tree Service in 2017 to begin work on a four-year ROW tree and brush clearing project to help reduce potential power outages and energy hazards. ACRT marks the problem trees and Carr’s Tree Service, a subsidiary of Stearns Electric Association, clears the ROW.

Although clearing right-of-way has always been important to the Cooperative, finding time for line crews to keep up with the trees and brush growing into over 2,600 miles of power line is nearly impossible.

That is why, in 2017, Stearns Electric took a more aggressive approach to catch up ROW clearing and make it easier to keep up with problem trees well into the future. It was no small investment. Over the course of the four-year project, ROW clearing will cost over eight million dollars. But the work is already benefiting our members.

Hundreds of Miles Already Cleared

Over the last three-and-a-half-years, consulting utility foresters with ACRT have been walking every single mile of overhead power line, identifying problem trees. Trees that are growing into power lines, or growing within 10 feet of the power lines, are trimmed, topped or removed by Carr’s Tree Service. Additionally, brush mowing and spraying is used as an effective way to clear and maintain the right-of-way when appropriate.

Over 1,200 miles of line have been completed since January 2017 and 1,200 more will be completed by the end of this year.

In 2020, the number of feeders that need to be cleared is nearly double what it has been in the past. Although it seems daunting, this includes several underground feeders with overhead taps that require minimal cutting.

Outage Reduction

What’s even better? Tree-related power outages have decreased by nine percent. In 2016, before the project began, 24 percent of power outages at Stearns Electric Association were caused by trees. Today, that is down to 15 percent. Since our members have power over 99% of the time, a nine percent reduction in tree-related outages is a significant accomplishment.

Overall, tree-related outages on feeders that have been cleared were reduced by over 46 percent. In 2019 alone, Cooperative members saw a 76 percent reduction in tree-related outages on cleared feeders.

As you can see below, Stearns Electric members have experienced a decrease in both the number of tree related outages and the total members out of power due to trees.


What’s next?

By the time crews wrap up this four-year tree trimming cycle, it will be time to start over again. However, since Stearns Electric was so aggressive with its ROW program over the last four years, the end of this four-year cycle will pave the way for more efficient and consistent tree clearing cycles into the future.

We realize that cutting and trimming trees on your property is not always ideal. Our consulting utility foresters work closely with members to only remove and trim what is needed for the safety of the public and our line workers, and the reliability of our distribution system.

One way you can help is by not planting trees within at least 25 feet of power lines. If you plan to plant a medium-sized or larger tree, plant at least 40 feet away from power lines. You can download our “Right Tree Brochure” on our website,

If you have any questions about our right-of-way program, please don’t hesitate to call us at (800) 962-0655.