Appalachian Power is taking a proactive approach to prevent power outages. They say about half of all outages are caused by trees, the biggest single cause of power outages.
"At least three to four times a month, sometimes more, the power does go off at least once or twice," said Victoria Hubert, who lives in Vinton, just a few hundred yards from where crews spent the day trimming trees on Washington Avenue.
Appalachian Power hopes cutting trees more often will mean fewer outages. As part of a new pilot program, they will cut trees along some select routes every four years. The program comes at a cost of about $30 million, increasing the trimming budget by $5-10 million per year for the next few years. In 2008, APCo spent about $38 million on tree trimming. Every year since they've spent about $28 million.
"Trying to balance the cost and reliability of service is something we always struggle with," said Todd Burns, an APCo spokesman. "Trimming trees is one of our largest expenses and it's the No. 1 cause of outages, so we're hoping we can find something to save customers money and keep the lights on."
APCo directs the company they've contracted with, Asplundh Tree Expert Company, where to go. To keep up with the additional work, Asplundh is hiring an extra 80-90 people, an increase of about 20 percent from the current 650 employees.
"It gets a little unsightly but it does help," Hubert said. "In the windstorm, once they trim the trees down, every wind storm we get doesn't knock out the power," which is exactly what APCo is hoping for across southwest Virginia.
APCo says the cost won't be passed onto customers until at least next year, saying the majority of these expenses will be rolled into cases in 2014 and 2016.
If you're interested in a job with Asplundh, you can call 540-985-4750.