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Bill Would Give Iowa Utilities More Tree Trimming Leeway

Des Moines, Iowa — A bill being considered in the Iowa legislature would give utility companies more authority to trim trees and other vegetation around power lines.

Onnalea Kelley, a lobbyist for MidAmerican Energy, says it’s not just during bad weather that obstructions cause power outages. She has data for MidAmerican’s service area in Iowa.

(As above) “For the past 10 years, almost 10,000 tree-related interruptions totaling 72 million minutes of interruption time occurred,” Kelley says, “and this is only when the winds were below 45 miles an hour, so it was not considered a wind incident.”

If there’s no easement granting access to a property, the bill would grant utilities 10 feet of clearance around power lines in cities and 30 feet around power lines outside of city limits. Kevin Condon, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, says in places where the RECs have no agreement about access, some non-resident landowners are refusing to let crews trim trees that endanger power lines.

(As above) “Ice storms are always a problem. Tornadoes are always a problem,” Condon says. “This last August we saw a derecho come through and really expose part of the issue here.” 

The union representing line crews backs the bill, too. Nick Laning is a lobbyist for the state chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

(As above) “When trees rub up onto the wiring and get into the insulation, you have a hazard for fires and electrocution for workers,” he says, “so it’s a worker safety issue as well.” 

Kevin Kuhle, a lobbyist for the Iowa Farm Bureau, says his group opposes the bill.

(As above) “This bill is not about the August derecho, which was devastating for farmers,” Kuhle says. “This bill is all about property rights.” 

Kuhle says a landowner has the right to determine what happens on his or her land and blanket easements will not provide appropriate compensation for landowners. The bill has cleared subcommittee hearings and is eligible for consideration in House and Senate committees.

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