PSEG Long Island, in one of its first orders of business since taking over management of the electric system Jan. 1, is ordering more trimming of trees around power lines.
The Newark company, under its $446 million annual contract, also plans to remove five times as many "at-risk" trees from around power lines so that they don't topple over during a storm.
The company said the expanded tree-trimming effort will cover more line mileage than LIPA had previously, and remove more growth around the power lines themselves.
This year, PSEG is working with four outside contractors to trim trees along 2,600 miles of lower-voltage distribution lines, which are primarily in neighborhoods, and around 250 miles of higher-voltage transmission lines. From 2015 on, the company said it will clear around 2,200 miles of distribution lines annually, and continue clearing 250 miles around the transmission lines.
That compares with LIPA's program of trimming around 1,600 miles of distribution lines and 200 miles of power lines annually, PSEG said.
The LIPA system encompasses just over 9,000 miles of distribution, and 1,000 miles of transmission lines. PSEG plans to trim around the entire system every four years, compared with LIPA's average 5.7 years, said spokesman Jeff Weir. He said PSEG expects to spend 30 percent to 40 percent more than LIPA did last year on trimming operations. As of 2012, he said, a state report found LIPA spent around $16 million a year on the programs.
PSEG is instructing its tree-trimmers to prune more limbs around lines to create "a larger buffer." LIPA cleared trees to around six feet; PSEG plans to clear limbs 10 feet below, eight feet to the sides and 12 feet above the lines. A larger swath will be cleared from areas near higher-voltage lines.
The effort is certain to raise concerns, one official said.
Phil Healy, superintendent of public works for the village of Lynbrook, called the plans to cut away more from wires "pretty severe," and suggested PSEG is "going to find that there's a lot of pushback and people are very attached to the aesthetics of their neighborhoods."
"It will really change the character of many areas," Healy said. "People will be very disappointed."
PSEG has pledged to keep local governments and customers abreast of the work and to have its contractors remove tree limbs and chips from customer properties. Information will be placed on customer doors the day of the trimming, PSEG said.
LIPA ratepayer Mark Salamack of Massapequa said PSEG should be exploring alternatives to overhead wires. "I don't think tree trimming is where they should be focusing their efforts," he said. "They should be focusing on putting more power lines underground."
Those efforts are expensive, but not, Salamack noted, when compared to the cost of bringing in thousands of crews each year to fix overhead lines.
LIPA this week will get some help in paying those old Sandy bills, according to U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
A recently approved federal grant of $141.6 million will help LIPA pay costs for additional tree-trimmers and line workers from out of state who helped restore power in the storm's aftermath.