Routine Tree Trimming is Key to Starkville’s High Power Reliability

Vegetation management program minimizes storm-related interruptions

Weather is the top cause of power outages in Mississippi. That’s why keeping trees away from power lines has been an effective outage-reduction strategy for Starkville Utilities, whose reliability performance consistently ranks among the best in the state.

“Delivering reliable service for customers is a point of pride for Starkville Utilities that we work hard to uphold,” said Edward Kemp, general manager of Starkville Utilities. “Investments in routine tree trimming are a priority in our operations and play a major role in minimizing outages and improving service for our residential, business and industrial customers.”

Electric utilities track several indicators to measure reliability, including the average duration of service interruptions per customer per year. Based on the latest statistics from 2020, Starkville Utilities’ customers averaged 48.8 minutes of interruption, significantly lower than the statewide average of 203.9 minutes.

According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Starkville Utilities’ average has been less than an hour for six of the last seven years.

“Averaging less than 60 minutes of interruption is outstanding and has a lot to do with our attention to right-of-way clearing,” said Jason Horner, system engineer, electric, for Starkville Utilities. “Crews maintain line easements at least 15 feet on either side and trim or remove overhanging trees to prevent limb drops. They also make sure vegetation is not growing up into the lines.”

Proper trimming is also beneficial for trees. Crews follow guidelines set by the American National Standards Institute to enhance tree health, and having well-established ROW limits means that most of their efforts are focused on controlling regrowth. If growth gets out of hand, it’s harder to conform to ANSI standards, Horner noted.

Starkville Utilities uses a combination of contractor and in-house crews to clear vegetation from distribution lines on four-year cycles. They also work with customers to preserve trees that are of significance and to provide advice on tree placement. Property owners are advised not to plant trees that could grow within 25 feet of a power line. A mature height of less than 15 feet is recommended for trees planted near power lines.

Another threat to reliability is wildlife. Around 10% of outages are caused by squirrels, birds and other animals that contact energized electrical equipment or gnaw on wires. Over the last decade, Starkville Utilities has invested in insulated bushings and coated wires to mitigate wildlife damage and prevent faults that can lead to outages.

Recent infrastructure upgrades have also boosted the reliability of Starkville’s electrical system. Last year, Starkville Utilities commissioned the new southwest substation to provide a second transmission line from Tennessee Valley Authority along with additional improvements. Since then, crews have upgraded primary and northeast substations to support the new transmission feed and enhance system operations.

“Statistics prove that investments in tree trimming and upgrades are paying off for customers,” Kemp said. “It’s all part of our Future FOCUS initiative to ensure that our electrical system provides safe, reliable and affordable power to fuel Starkville’s growth for many years to come.”

Starkville Utilities is a public utility serving 14,000 residences, businesses and industries in Starkville, Mississippi as well as Mississippi State University. Its mission is to supply safe, reliable, and cost-effective electric and water service of superior quality and value that improves the lives of its customers.

We are a Water and Electric Utilities Company in Starkville