June 4, 2008 The BPU issued a Letter to Utilities with NOTICE OF SOLICITATION OF INFORMAL PUBLIC INPUT attached.

The letter states the BPU's decision to re-open the vegetation management rules and says it may necessitate modifications to their vegetation management practices based on the interim requirements for Vegetation Management specified in the attached Notice.

The notice (which will be published in the NJ Register) includes the following:
"During this period, and until the Board adopts revised rules, the Board has determined in accordance with N.J.A.C. 14:1-1.2(b)2, that it is in the public interest to relax certain procedural requirements of N.J.A.C. 14:5-9.4(b) regarding transmission line vegetation management pursuant to N.J.A.C. 14:5-9.6 as set forth more fully below."

Interim Requirements:

  1. Use of the utility industry's best practices, such as integrated vegetation management;
  2. Allowance of commercial woody agricultural crops in the ROW (Right of way) wire zone, such as fruit trees, nursery stock, and Christmas trees; and use of discretion by the VM (Vegetation Manager) in assessing the compatibility of such vegetation in the ROW; and
  3. Use of discretion by the VM to trim, cut or remove vegetation in a manner that will not compromise safety and reliability, and is assessing the compatibility of such vegetation in the ROW.
Notwithstanding the above, EDCs (Electrical Distribution Companies) shall continue to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety and reliability of transmission lines. At all times during the pendency of this matter, VMs must use their professional judgment to determine what vegetation management is appropriate to ensure safe and reliable service. This procedural relaxation relates to the scheduling of certain vegetation management practices as well as giving due consideration for cutting, removal or partial trimming during the interim period, nor are they relieved from all other responsibilities pursuant to N.J.A.C 14:5-9.

Solicitation of Input:
In an effort to assist in this important assessment function, the Board will afford the opportunity for public input from interested persons, through the Board's website as described below. The issues to be reviewed by the Board will include:

  1. The treatment of trees within the border zone in transmission rights of way;
  2. The requirements for notice to customers and property owners;
  3. A consideration for commercial agricultural interests with low-growing cultivated trees in an accessible right of way;
  4. Treatment of invasive and non-indigenous species;
  5. Environmental issues that may involve the New Jersey Department of Environmental protection, such as the application of herbicides;
  6. Resolution of concerns raised regarding vegetation management in the Pinelands Area;
  7. A review of differences between the State standards and federal NERC FAC 003-01; and
  8. Certification requirements for vegetation managers in New Jersey.
All relevant dates for the submission of comments and participation in the stakeholder process will be obtainable through a link from the Boards' website www.bpu.state.nj.us, to a designated page. Until such time as the Board establishes a ListServ (email group) or other similar mechanism, interested stakeholders can submit contact information through this designated page, requesting participation in the stakeholder process.

Once the Board has established a ListServ or similar mechanism, the Board will post a notice on the designated page described above, and shall accept comments for a two week period after the notice. The Board will then accept rebuttal comments for two weeks after the original comment period. An informal stakeholder conference will then be held. Following this opportunity for input the Board will determine whether to initiate a formal rulemaking process, which will include publication of any proposed rule changes in the New Jersey Register, a public comment period and final adoption of any amended rules.

In addition the notice includes:
The decision to review the Vegetation Management rules anticipating it culminating in adoption of revised rules within 10 months.
Background of issues.
Comments from the previous review cycle:

  • Utilities requested the tree height limit be increased from 15 feet to 18 feet in the previous review.
  • Utilities suggested that NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corp.) (FAC-003-1) be adopted by reference in place of the National Electrical Safety Code.
  • The Pinelands commission argued that habitats should be maintained in as natural a condition as possible.
  • Citizens and communities expressed concern over the vegetation management practices.

My Comments:
I was disappointed in a couple of things.

  1. It mentioned reliability 7 times, but environmental concerns only once saying they would consider "Environmental issues that may involve the New Jersey Department of Environmental protection, such as the application of herbicides."
    We all want reliable electrical service, but what about the environmental concerns of the public? Is a 15 or 18 foot tree 50 feet from the power line which is at least 35 feet above the ground really going to compromise reliability? Isn't it the Board of PUBLIC Utilities?
  2. We are given only 2 weeks to input initial comments, while they have 10 months to complete the process.
  3. The utilities are allowed to use "their Judgement" in determining what to cut in the interim 10 month period.

(Letter, Notice [pdfs])