For immediate release: Aug 20, 2009
Posted by: [OUCC]
Contact: Anthony Swinger
Phone: (317) 233-2747

Electric utility tree trimming investigation - OUCC files testimony and invites public comments

UPDATE (8/26): The September 2 events in Indianapolis will be held at the Pike Performing Arts Center, 6701 Zionsville Road.

 

Electric utility tree trimming investigation:
OUCC files testimony, Consumer comments invited, Field hearings scheduled

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) filed testimony Wednesday in the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission's (IURC's) investigation of electric utility tree trimming and vegetation management practices, and relevant utility tariffs. The OUCC is the state agency that represents the interests of all Indiana residential, commercial and industrial customers in cases before the IURC.

The OUCC's testimony recommends that the IURC - either in this investigation (Cause No. 43663) or a rulemaking proceeding - establish uniform vegetation management standards for all electric utilities under its jurisdiction. The OUCC's testimony includes several recommendations for those standards, at a minimum, including:

  • Compliance with nationally established procedures for vegetation management.
  • Consideration of total tree removal in cases of extreme or excessive pruning.
  • Standardized guidelines for providing notice to property owners before trimming, including notifications in two consecutive electric bills, direct notifications by mail and in person, and providing the customer with a four-hour window in which the trimming is to occur.
  • Appropriate dispute resolution practices in situations where an electric utility upgrades distribution lines to higher voltage levels (meaning that trees that had been at a sufficient distance from the lines would potentially need to be trimmed or removed).
  • Enhanced customer education and outreach practices regarding tree trimming and vegetation management.

Also, the OUCC recommends that electric utilities be required to file annual reports with the Commission regarding vegetation management practices to ensure that new standards are being followed. Reports would include each utility's budget and actual expenditures for tree trimming, the number of customer complaints regarding tree trimming and the manner in which they are addressed, and the percentage of tree-related outages.

"It is critical that electric utilities maintain their infrastructure in a way that will ensure safe, dependable service for all of their customers. At the same time, utilities have an obligation to respect the rights of property owners, engage them in constructive communication, and use practices that will cause the least disruption with regard to the quiet enjoyment of their property, taking into account both aesthetics and customer expense," said Indiana Utility Consumer Counselor David Stippler.

"This investigation offers the Commission the opportunity to standardize tree trimming practices among Indiana's electric utilities in a way that balances these objectives, especially with regard to customer service issues," continued Stippler. "This case also gives consumers the opportunity to voice their views and concerns on these issues, and we encourage people to take advantage of these opportunities in the upcoming public field hearings to be conducted throughout Indiana by the Commission."

A series of IURC public field hearings will be held throughout the state to accept sworn consumer comments for the evidentiary record in this investigation. The first two hearings are scheduled in Muncie and Indianapolis:

Monday, August 31, 2009:
OUCC information meeting at 5:30 p.m., IURC public field hearing at 6:00 p.m.

Muncie Central High School
801 N. Walnut St.
Muncie, Indiana

Wednesday, September 2, 2009:
OUCC information meeting at 5:30 p.m., IURC public field hearing at 6:00 p.m.

Pike High School
5401 W. 71st St.
Indianapolis, Indiana

Additional IURC field hearings in this investigation are tentatively scheduled for the following dates, with times and specific locations to be determined:

  • Tuesday, September 8, 2009 - Seymour
  • Wednesday, September 23 - Merrillville
  • Tuesday, September 29 - Fort Wayne
  • Wednesday, October 7 - Evansville

This schedule will be updated on the OUCC's Website at www.in.gov/oucc/2555.htm.

Consumers may also submit written comments for the case's record to the OUCC by mail, fax or the Internet:

  • Mail: Consumer Services Staff
    Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor
    115 W. Washington St., Suite 1500 South
    Indianapolis, IN 46204
  • Fax: (317) 232-5923
  • E-mail: uccinfo@oucc.IN.gov
  • OUCC Website: www.IN.gov/OUCC

Written comments should include the consumer's name, mailing address, and a reference to IURC Cause No. 43663. Additional information on this case, including a link to the OUCC's testimony, is available at www.in.gov/oucc/2555.htm.

 

(IURC Cause No. 43663)

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) is the state agency that represents residential and business consumer interests in cases before state and federal utility regulatory commissions. To learn more, visit www.IN.gov/OUCC.

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