Tree trimming and vegetation management practices of Indiana's electric utilities were the focus of an Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) investigation and rulemaking proceeding that started in April 2009 and concluded in 2012.
The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) appeared and participated in all hearings on behalf of the public - which includes all Indiana residential, commercial and industrial utility consumers. The investigation included evidentiary hearings in Indianapolis and 6 public field hearings throughout the state. The rulemaking proceeding included an additional public hearing and several technical conferences among interested parties.
The IURC started its formal investigation (Cause No. 43663) of electric utility tree trimming practices and tariffs on April 1, 2009.
The Commission's November 30, 2010 order concluding the investigation (111 pages) and its July 7, 2011 order on reconsideration (4 pages) established a number of safeguards for consumers and property owners.
The November 30, 2010 order also established a rulemaking proceeding (Rulemaking No. 10-04) to address issues including customer education, advance notification, possible tree replacement and dispute resolution. The final rule received Commission approval on August 29, 2012 and formally went into effect on October 27, 2012.
To review the complete IURC public file in the tree trimming investigation, please click here and enter docket number 43663. To review documents and public comments in the rulemaking proceeding, please click here.
Under the final rule, the five investor-owned electric utilities in Indiana are required to:
- Comply with nationally recognized best practices for vegetation management, including the ANSI A300 standards, National Electric Safety Code, Shigo Guide, and International Society of Arboriculture Best Management Practices.
- Obtain customer consent before removing more than 25 percent of a tree's canopy, except in emergencies and public safety situations.
- Provide 2 advance notices to a customer at least 2 weeks before trimming trees at the service location.
- The notices must include at least 1 attempt to contact the customer by phone or in person and at least 1 form of written notice.
- The notices must include contact information for a utility representative who is authorized to respond to inquiries on vegetation management. Written notices must also include contact information for a contractor, if the utility is using one.
- This provision applies to "customers" and not to a property owner who is not the named utility customer at the service address.
- In most cases, temporarily put the trimming on hold if the customer contacts the utility within 3 business days of receiving the notice to object.
- The rule places responsibility on the customer to contact the utility if he or she objects to the planned trimming or tree removal on his or her property. If the customer does not make such a contact within 2 weeks, the rule provides that the customer has given the utility "implied consent" to conduct the trimming or removal.
- If the customer is not satisfied with the utility's response, he or she has up to 7 calendar days to file a complaint with the IURC Consumer Affairs Division. Otherwise, the trimming may go forward.
- No stay is required when an "emergency, storm event, or public safety situation exists."
- Publish a legal notice announcing an upcoming vegetation management project in at least one local newspaper.
- The notice may identify the location either by: the street name and block, subdivision name, intersecting roads, or each property's specific address.
- The legal notice serves as formal notification to property owners. If a property owner does not contact the utility within 2 weeks, then he or she has given the utility "implied consent" to conduct the trimming or removal, under the rule.
- Give advance written notice to affected customers at least 60 days before a line upgrade (such as replacing a 138-kV line with a 765-kV line).
- Make sure employees or contractors who perform tree trimming or provide in-person notices carry identification and make it available for the customer's inspection.
- When trimming occurs, at least 1 member of the work crew must be authorized to discuss and attempt to resolve any customer objections.
- If the crew cannot resolve the customer's concerns, then at least one additional utility representative must try to resolve the matter.
- Remove debris within three days after trimming, except in cases of storm recovery or other natural occurrences.
- Develop customer education plans covering a number of vegetation management-related issues, including the utility's trimming cycle, how the cycle affects clearance distance, and how it will affect a tree's appearance.
- File annual reports with the IURC regarding vegetation management practices.
- These reports are due on March 31 of each year and at any time a utility makes changes to its tree trimming and vegetation management policies.
- The annual reports must include the number of customer complaints related to vegetation management in the past year, the manner in which those complaints have been handled, the utility's annual budget and actual expenditures for vegetation management, and data comparing tree-related outages to all other service outages.
The rule reiterates that disputes over monetary damages can only be resolved by a civil court.
The new rule also defines "brush" as "vegetation with stems less than 6 inches diameter at breast height" and exempts brush from the rule's standards. In other words, utilities may trim or remove brush without advance notice.
The standards established in the investigation and rulemaking apply to Duke Energy, Indiana Michigan Power (I&M), Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL), Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) and Vectren. They do not apply to REMCs or municipal electric utilities.
The following links offer information on the tree trimming and line clearing policies of investor-owned Indiana electric utilities, along with customer tips:
Additional information on trees and planting can be found on these sites: