Safety, Electricity, Economy

NLI’s right-of-way maintenance program

By Elissa Glassman

What is a right-of-way? A right-of-way allows utilities to build and operate their facilities on private property.

Northern Lights’ power lines are built within rights-of-way. Rights-of-way granted to NLI by our member-owners are private property—not public access routes.

Overgrown rights-of-way in NLI’s service territory can create hazards ranging from personal injuries to fires. These outcomes are serious consequences, making tree trimming a necessity.

Trees and tree limbs are conductors of electricity and increase the potential for fires, blinking/dimming lights, power outages and personal injury.

With more than 2,700 miles of distribution line, NLI will spend approximately $1.5 million this year to clear trees and limbs from overhead and underground power line rights-of-way. This work is done by NLI crews and contract crews.

Northern Lights, Inc. The power of local service. A Touchstone Energy® CooperativeNLI does not own the land used for a power line right-of-way, nor is it open to the public for use. Ownership of the land is private, and use of the power line right-of-way is restricted to use by the power company only for power purposes. Please respect your neighbors’ right to privacy and avoid activities such as four-wheeling and snow machining in private rights-of-way.

NLI needs access along rights-of-way for the purpose of operating and maintaining a reliable electric system, including accessing meters, testing, repairing, inspecting, removing or replacing any cooperative equipment such as poles, transformers, guy wires, etc.

Rights-of-way access are needed to:

  • Clear brush and trees that could contact power lines and restrict access and maintenance.
  • Add or replace transformers when new customers connect.
  • Make emergency repairs.

When building fences, the following guidelines help provide a safety zone for NLI crews and the public:

  • Do not attach any fencing, signs or posts to power poles.
  • Retain a minimum distance of 20 feet from all poles or underground transformer boxes. When digging, call 811 to have underground utilities located.

At NLI, we work hard to provide safe and reliable service to our members. One of our most challenging and expensive maintenance items includes keeping overhead and underground lines clear of vegetation. Trees are a leading cause of power outages, creating an inconvenience to you, and added labor, material and transportation expense to our co-op.

We want to provide you with the highest level of service and safety. Proper tree trimming keeps your lights on. If we do experience an outage, crews are able to restore service much faster if the power line right-of-way is open and accessible.

Speaking of safety, do not trim trees near power lines. If you notice a tree is growing near the line, please let us know. Members can call or request a tree clearing using the form on NLI’s website. In addition, you may see a dead, weak or diseased tree leaning toward a power line, but is outside the normal right-of-way. In this case, we will assess the situation and if we feel the tree is a danger to the power line we will work with the member to remove it.

NLI uses two methods of rights-of-way maintenance:

  • Side trimming—trimming existing trees on the edges of the right-of-way.
  • Ground Clearing—using special equipment to completely clear vegetation that is growing within the right-of-way. Trees and other vegetation are
    ground into small pieces and left in the right-of-way.

Generally, after one growing season, the natural vegetation will begin to grow back and hide the material left in the right-of-way. The wood chips that
remain help improve soil, reduce erosion and put nutrients back into the ground.

You may wonder why we do not put all of our lines underground, thus avoiding the need for tree trimming.

NLI reminds members to be sure trees are not planted close to or under powerlines. Our crews trim trees to ensure power continues to flow during stormy weather.
Photo by Travis Cottier

Underground power lines are more expensive to install, and more difficult to repair in the event of an outage. Right-of- way access, maintenance, repair and replacement are still required. While there is value to installing underground wire in certain locations, it is not financially possible to replace overhead wires with underground cable throughout the entire system.

You can take a pro-active, “power friendly” approach to landscaping. Your local nursery or garden center can help you select shrubs or bushes appropriate for planting near power lines. Most nurseries have a variety of beautiful shrubs, well suited to our climate that will not interfere with power lines. These choices will give you plenty of options for spring and fall color as well as shape.

The benefits of these tree trimming efforts often go unnoticed, but a lack of tree trimming will be noticed by everyone.

We ask for your understanding, and we pledge to continue our best efforts in providing you with the best possible service.

For more information on tree trimming, contact Northern Lights at (208) 263-5141 or visit