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24/08/2011: Prudent pruning nips power cuts in the bud

Electricity North West's team of tree cutters are helping thousands of residents escape a sudden power cut throughout the year – with a spot of prudent pruning.

Falling branches and trees which encroach on overhead power lines are one of the biggest single causes of unplanned power cuts in the region and tree cutting teams actively trim thousands of trees across the North West every year to prevent these unexpected power outages.

Vegetation control manager, Terry Clarke, said: "Overhanging branches can affect power lines in a number of different ways. They can touch the power lines causing a series of intermittent faults, they can cause short circuits and in the worst cases branches or rotten trees can simply blow down, taking the power lines with them.

"That can leave thousands of people without power, some of them for hours or even days on extreme occasions, especially if the lines are remote and the damage is extensive.

"By investing in the regular pruning of trees, we can vastly reduce the amount of storm damage that our system suffers and that is great news for our customers."

Preventing power cuts is a top priority for Electricity North West, and the company is investing hundreds of millions of pounds to improve the network over the next few years.

Electricity North West invests more than £5m every year in the tree-cutting programme, which is the biggest single element of the maintenance budget.
Engineers work with landowners and local communities to plan and carry out the work because in most cases the line needs to be powered down so that it's safe to work near.

"People might think it's strange that we cause a power cut to prevent a power cut, but by planning controlled outages which affect relatively few people, we can prevent widespread power cuts which could affect thousands of customers with no warning.

“Our planned outages generally take place during the week around the hours of a working day, and we aim to give people enough warning so that they can make alternative arrangements whist the work is underway," said Terry.

"Our vegetation controllers try to create enough clearance so that we don't have to go back for up to five years. However we can only do what the landowner will let us do. In most cases they are happy to let us work, because it saves them a job. By working to British Standards, the trees keep their natural shape and usually are more stable than before we started."
Because a large part of the region is rural – taking in Cumbria, Lancashire, parts of North Yorkshire, the Peak District and Cheshire – there are a lot of trees and cutting needs to take place every week of the year.
"In summer and spring the trees are in full growth and we have to take care not to disturb nesting birds so in some ways winter can be an easier time to prune," explained Terry.

Electricity North West has its own teams of Arborists and is currently recruiting in the North West. For more information, go to the Careers pages on our website.

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