FirstEnergy’s Vegetation Management group is an innovative, industry-leading organization that advocates for and practices excellence in sustainable utility vegetation management. Our workforce is committed to safe and compliant vegetation management practices using education, emerging technologies and industry and stakeholder collaboration.
This group manages transmission and distribution corridors to support the delivery of safe and reliable electricity while also working to make the environment better. The group uses industry best practices to create sustainable habitats on FirstEnergy’s rights-of-way. Through the Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) program, our vegetation management efforts preserve biodiversity and minimize environmental impacts on our transmission and distribution lines.
Our vegetation management staff performs inspections and approves all work conducted by vegetation management contractors. We have contracts with more than 30 companies that perform vegetation management activities on our transmission and distribution system, totaling an estimated 1,500 crews and 3,500 trained, qualified line clearance workers. All vegetation management work is performed in accordance with the American National Standards Institute’s ANSI-Z133.1, ANSI-A300 Standards—vegetation management and safety standards set by the Tree Care Industry Association—and other applicable federal, state and local regulations. Additionally, forestry personnel attend industry trade conferences and maintain memberships in industry trade organizations, such as Utility Arborist Association and International Society of Arboriculture. Forestry personnel also seek relevant certifications such as Registered Professional Forester, Tree Risk Assessment Qualification, Certified Tree Expert and Pesticide Licenses.
We use IVM techniques to evaluate the transmission corridor to identify incompatible vegetation, define a vegetation control timeframe, and assess and select control options. IVM includes ecologically focused management practices that promote compatible, biodiverse and thriving plant communities for long-term vegetation maintenance. Well-managed rights-of-way provide the food and cover wildlife need to survive, improving the biodiversity of our transmission corridors. IVM also provides a unique opportunity to create pollinator-friendly habitats that sustain healthy populations of bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. IVM accomplishes three things:
Lowers maintenance costs by eliminating the need to constantly mow and control grasses and vegetation under our power lines
Helps ensure safe and reliable electric service
Discourages the growth of tall, woody vegetation and provides additional sunlight for native grasses, wildflowers and small shrubs to emerge
In 2016, our Transmission Vegetation Management group began a LiDAR pilot project to more accurately and efficiently identify incompatible vegetation for removal. LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, uses a helicopter, fixed-wing aircraft, drone or ground vehicle with a sensor that projects light particles and measures the time it takes for the light to bounce off objects and return to the sensor. Similar to the way that dolphins and bats use echolocation, LiDAR data can be used to create an image from light point clouds to show the height of vegetation on the transmission corridor. The pilot project has since expanded to all operating companies in 2019 and evolved into an annual project. As the technology improves, the Transmission Vegetation Management group plans to use LiDAR data for tree health identification, artificial intelligence and other initiatives aimed at enhancing safety and reliability.
FirstEnergy’s IVM practices promote compatible, biodiverse and thriving plant communities and create pollinator-friendly habitats along our transmission corridors.
FirstEnergy’s Vegetation Management group supports various pollinator initiatives and participates in collaborative research studies that help us develop sustainable vegetation management practices.
EPRI’s Power-in-Pollinator Initiative: Serious declines in pollinator populations, such as the European honey bee and Monarch butterfly, are causing global concern for financial, health and cultural reasons. We participate in this EPRI initiative to lead innovative, collaborative pollinator conservation with 20 other electric power companies. FirstEnergy is helping by managing and conserving the land beneath our transmission lines to attract pollinators.
State Game Lands 33 Project (SGL33): The Pennsylvania SGL33 research project began in central Pennsylvania in 1953 in response to public concern about the impact of vegetation management practices on wildlife habitat along the transmission route. Today, researchers from Penn State continue to monitor and measure plant and animal biodiversity at SGL33 sites. Numerous studies have demonstrated that IVM work under transmission lines is key to the creation of a diverse plant community dominated by early successional species, including numerous grasses, sedges, forbs, pollinators, reptiles, grassland and shrub-land birds and mammals. Where early successional habitats are decreasing, rights-of-way can provide critical, sustainable habitats that numerous species rely on.
EPRI’s Invasive Exotic Study: We are conducting a five-year study with EPRI and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Northeast Ohio to study the invasive exotic plant ecology that exists in the park and along transmission rights-of-way. The study compares how different vegetation management approaches affect plant community composition and structure, with specific attention to species abundance, dynamics and control.
Monarch Butterfly Candidate Conservation Assurance Agreement (CCAA): Over the past 20 years, the population of Monarch butterflies in the eastern U.S. has declined by 80%. This sharp decline has put the species in jeopardy. The CCAA is a voluntary, collaborative conservation agreement between energy and transportation entities and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that commits resources toward butterfly-friendly management practices on utility and transportation lands. FirstEnergy is one of 30 initial organizations participating in the Monarch CCAA development, collectively managing more than 2.5 million acres of rights-of-way and other associated lands across the lower 48 states.