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Stratton Moves To Block UI Tree-Trimming Plan

by Thomas MacMillan | Jan 17, 2014 12:17 pm

(37) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall, Environment

Thomas MacMillan Photo Michael Stratton has a legislative idea for protecting New Haven’s trees from a United Illuminating power-line clearing plan that could decimate the city’s arboreal assets.

Stratton, who took office Jan. 1 as the new alder of Ward 19 in the Prospect Hill/Newhallville neighborhood, has filed a proposed ordinance amendment that would give New Haven’s tree warden explicit veto power over tree pruning or removal by the power company.

Stratton’s legislation comes after the New Haven Garden Club warned last month that a new United Illuminating (UI) tree-trimming policy could mean the removal of half the city’s trees. The policy comes amid a broader debate about how to adapt to climate change.

UI has said that its new tree-trimming policy is designed in response to a recent increase in power outages during storms, mainly caused by trees hitting electrical lines. The policy creates an eight-foot protection zone on either side of electrical wires, from ground to sky, in which UI would remove vegetation. Click here to read the plan.

The policy includes an exception for small, ornamental trees, and requires in-person removal notification of abutting property owners, who would have a chance to file an objection with the tree warden. New Haven’s tree warden is deputy parks chief Christy Hass. 

Stratton’s legislation would explicitly prohibit any tree pruning based on an 8-foot-wide pruning corridor, and would require power companies to obtain written permission from New Haven’s tree warden before any work. Click here to read the proposed legislation.

“This proposed ordinance would limit UI’s ability to execute on the vegetation management plan we created in collaboration with the state, municipal partners and community organizations. That could have a negative impact on our ability to provide safe, reliable electrical service during a major storm event in the future,” Joseph Thomas, UI’s vice president for electric system operations.

“UI has in the past and will continue to work with the towns and cities where we operate—as well as tree wardens, legislators, regulators, community groups and property owners—to establish the utility protection zone we need to protect our system and reduce customer outages during major storm events.”

“A Deliberative Process”

“There’s a lot of outrage and fear about what’s going to happen,” Stratton said. “I wanted a piece of legislation in front of the board.”

Stratton based his proposal on the town of Greenwich’s tree policy, which gives its tree warden broad power over power-company pruning.

“The bottom line is what we’re trying to do is slow down the process,” Stratton said. He said he wants to see “a deliberative process regarding each tree that’s going to be cut.”

As it is, UI’s policy offers “very limited notice,” Stratton said. “If nobody says anything, they go and just clear-cut an entire neighborhood.”

The power company is trying to protect people from power outages, Stratton said. The garden club is trying to protect the tree canopy. “We’re trying to have balance. That’s best struck by giving the tree warden more powers.”

Stratton called his proposal a work in progress. “I put in an admittedly hastily drafted ordinance,” he said. “I do think there are some minor tweaks to be made to it.”

UI spokesman Ed Crowder pointed out that the proposed legislation refers to a state law that has since been replaced.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” said Stratton; the proposed law needs some revision.

“A Good Start”

Garden club spokeswoman Mikey Herschoff released this statement about Stratton’s submission: “The Garden Club of New Haven looks forward to reviewing the ordinance proposed by Alder Michael Stratton, which we understand will be amended to reflect recent changes in state law. We hope that the final ordinance, if adopted, will buttress the authority of the the Tree Warden, Christy Hass, to continue to protect New Haven’s beautiful street trees from unnecessary utility pruning and removal, as Alder Stratton’s proposal intends.”

Chris Ozyck, a tree expert with the Urban Resources Initiative, called Stratton’s proposal “a good start” to addressing UI’s policy.

Ozyck said UI’s policy is aggressive, but it also won’t affect New Haven for some time. The policy is now in a pilot phase in Hamden. “No work will begin in New Haven until June, and when it does it will probably be a small amount. The program rolls out over a number of years,” Ozyck said. “We don’t want to vilify UI right off the bat.”

The question is how responsive UI will be to communities and governments, Ozyck said. “They’re sensitive, to make sure ratepayers are happy.”

“I think Mike is trying to be responsive to people in his neighborhood who are very concerned about this,” Ozyck said. “I think the city just needs to have a very strong stance or position that they telegraph to UI so that UI knows when they start to come in here and do assessments and host community meetings that there is an understanding that this is what the city wants.”

“What I figure Mike is trying to do is make sure our tree warden has all the power he or she needs to be able to stand up to UI on behalf of the citizens of the city,” Ozyck said.

“A Resilient Forest”

Ozyck said that UI’s aggressive tree trimming plan might be an overreaction, given the natural adaptation that forests can make to changes in weather.

Connecticut had about 30 years without a powerful hurricane, which meant that an accumulation of dead branches had developed. Then Irene, Sandy, and Nemo hit in rapid succession. Ozyck said the tree damage from those storms diminished with each one, as more dead wood was cleared out. “The first storm took out everything that had just been waiting.”

In places like North Carolina, which see hurricanes much more often, the storms’ impact on forest is much less. As New England sees more powerful storms more often, the forest will adapt.

“Trees get pruned by mother nature,” Ozyck said. “We have sort of a resilient forest now after it’s been tested. I personally feel like we have time. We don’t need to have this hysteria to remove trees.”

UI also needs to recognize the difference between urban, suburban, and rural trees, Ozyck said. City trees are more precious than those in rural areas, and their removal can make a bigger difference.

“Trees are part of the New England experience but also the Connecticut experience,” Ozyck said. “It’s just part of who we are.”

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posted by: Anderson Scooper on January 17, 2014  12:40pm

Good gosh, please don’t trust the welfare of our trees to any utility company!

UI cares only about UI, not aesthetics, and this new legislation green-lights drastic trimming of our tree belts.

Here’s hoping the BofA will put politics aside, and will get behind this no-brainer legislation.  Does Stratton have any co-sponsors?

posted by: robn on January 17, 2014  12:45pm

UI’s plan is ridiculous. To remove all trees and branches within 8’ of a power pole or a power line means that they’ll remove half of our tree; all trees from one side of every street. Their equally ridiculous Plan B will likely propose pruning all branches 8’ away from lines, making half of the city’s trees Y-shaped.

This is stupid. The proposal eliminates 50-100 assets that make the city nice vs sucky, in return for maybe a few days to a week of power outage (in large magnitude hurricane years which are infrequent).

If there’s an issue all New Havener’s can unite against, its this.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 17, 2014  1:04pm

This legislation goes in the right direction. A few years ago, the shade trees in front of my house were cut down and replaced with ornamental trees. Previously, the shade trees helped massively at reducing solar heat gain on the roof and walls of my house, thus helping to keep the house much cooler, resulting in greatly reduced need for air conditioning. Furthermore the large, mature shade trees produced a nice vault over the sidewalk, not only shading it, but also making for a pleasant spatial and visual experience as one walked down the sidewalk in the summer. The large mature shade trees also retained an large amount of storm water during storms, which now goes in to the city drains because the smaller ornamental trees don’t retain as much water.

The replacement ornamental trees are a species selected so as to not grow high enough to interfere with power lines, but they will also not grow large enough to create a vault over the street or sidewalk, nor will they help reduce solar heat gain on my house.

Ornamental trees provide no spatial definition on the street, no protection from solar heat gain for structures not built up to the sidewalk, and minimal stormwater retention compared to mature shade trees. Ornamental trees do provide visual obstructions on streets with their short trunks and low crowns, and they provide a nice pile of leaves to rake up in the Fall. So basically, ornamental trees provide little to no benefit, but do provide chores in the Fall.

Mature shade tree retention and continued cultivation (new plantings) should be a priority for the city. Not only do shade trees help cool buildings, they make sidewalks and streets more visually pleasant and functionally walkable in hot and/or rainy weather, which helps make transit use, biking and walking more viable. Anyone interested in seeing shade trees in action, I suggest walking down Colony Road from Goffee Street in the summer.

http://goo.gl/maps/MpbNk

http://www.esf.edu/ecenter/eis/images/elm.

posted by: robn on January 17, 2014  1:10pm

I meant to write 50-100 YEAR assets

posted by: FairHavenRes on January 17, 2014  1:10pm

If UI is so concerned about the safety and protection of their revenue lines, aka power lines, then they should start working on a plan to move more of these lines underground.  I’ve lived in hurricane prone areas in the South with underground wires and it’s much safer and smarter—and more visually appealing.  We can’t grow trees underground but we can certainly move the power lines there.  UI, start working on that and leave the trees alone!

posted by: Atwater on January 17, 2014  1:28pm

An alder considers the trees. How appropriate. Bury the power lines and this won’t be an issue.

posted by: Susan Bradford on January 17, 2014  2:05pm

The City can make an ordinance in conflict with State law?  The State has been quietly doing this through PURA based on the State Vegetation Management Task Force report… http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2697&q=503040&deepNav_GID=1631   

There is much more to this story.  For instance… they want jurisdiction over what tree you can plant within 100 feet on either side of a wire.  That’s a 200-foot zone affecting private property rights.  If you live on any state highway, the tree warden cannot protect you as DOT has jurisdiction.  As long as the mailman delivers the envelope, you will get a vague notice from the utility by regular mail 15 days in advance and if you don’t hop on it, the tree butchers do what they want - legally.  And if the mailman fails to deliver the envelope?  Oh well – tough luck for you. 

How do I know?  I live on a State highway in Bethany and the mailman never delivered any notice from CL&P who made a crime scene in front of my house June 20, 2013 by butchering a line of 75 year old spruces, cedars, and pines while I was at work that day.  There was no cause, no notice, and no consent.  They trespassed our property, made permanent damage to our privately owned trees, and could care less.  In fact, they just keep warning me they will be back to remove the trees completely.  And for the record, rural areas want their trees too. 

Ozyck is right.  Mother Nature already took out the weak trees naturally in the storms.  This hysterical reaction is madness.  But I think the City has to take this to the Governor and State Legislature to stop it and repeal the change made to Sec. 60. Section 16-234 under Public Act No. 13-298 effective July 1, 2013 – and stop PURA from moving forward – and reconvene their Task Force with sufficient resources and time to thoughtfully and respectfully give due consideration to public and private property rights for citizens who want electricity AND their trees.

posted by: cp06 on January 17, 2014  2:07pm

Can the Independent do a “True Vote” about whether power lines should be buried in New Haven? I’ve read/heard all the reason as to why this is “not” possible from the decision makers. Basically, its simply because they don’t want to deal with the up-front cost which, I think, down the road would pay for itself. Plus, the utility laws in CT will ensure that they continue to make a nice profit. But I digress. I’d be interesting in seeing if the public will is there for burying lines.

posted by: anonymous on January 17, 2014  2:10pm

Standing up for the existing tree canopy is not enough.  It should be the Mayor’s top priority to expand it. 

Neighborhoods with limited tree cover, like the Hill, are areas that people avoid. In the summer, it is simply too hot to walk down streets with few trees. This hurts local business, drives up everyone’s electric bills, and makes conditions for violent crime more favorable.

Unfortunately, ever since virtually all of our city leaders (and companies like UI) moved out to Orange or Westville, where there are plenty of trees, the tree cover in our city has declined. When you’re just driving through our city at 45 miles per hour, you don’t care if people who live here have enough trees. The problem is particularly severe in poorer areas where most children live. Homeowners are generally more likely to plant and take care of trees, so we need much greater efforts in neighborhoods near downtown that have more renters.

Supposedly, New Haven had the first public tree planting program in the country. It needs to be our top priority again.

posted by: robn on January 17, 2014  3:30pm

CP06,

Interesting question. I found a white paper on the subject (link below) from South Carolina Electric and Gas. They surely wasn’t to spin the issue in their favor but taken at face value, they note that a Duke Power study in North Carolina estimated the cost of moving lines underground at $41B, creating a 124% increase in rates for customers. Duke serves 104,000 sq miles and 7.2M customers; an extrapolation is probably not linear but for the sake of argument, UI serves 17 towns with 325,000 customers, so the cost of moving lines underground could cost $1.8B.

http://www.sceg.com/NR/rdonlyres/465E6534-2FFB-4069-BF84-81465AEEF887/0/ Undergroundvs.pdf,

posted by: Shaggybob on January 17, 2014  3:43pm

I agree with Fairhavenres- putting cables underground (at least the primary’s) would be a much more constructive use of money and would update our infrastructure. I have a large oak that is in front of my home which provides shade in the summer and probably reduces my electrical consumption for cooling by 50%. This 8’protection zone is absolutely impractical and overkill in my opinion.
I would rather be without power for a day than to lose that many trees for the sake of comfort and convenience. We can survive without tv and refrigeration is good for 24 hrs if you don’t open the door. Besides how many more “100 year storms” can there be??
I hope this passes so there is a process in place to think these things through and have a city representative to help decide what stays and what goes and you don’t go home one day after work and there are no more trees on your street.
A tree replacement program should also go side by side with the removal process when its absolutely necessary to take older large trees down. Remember photosynthesis- we all need to breathe.

posted by: FacChec on January 17, 2014  3:47pm

2Susan Bradford on January 17, 2014 1:05pm

Susan is correct this new Bill allows the energy co. rights to cut trees:

The Stratton amendement is DOA (Dead on arrival)TO THE BOA.

OLR Bill Analysis
sHB 6360 (as amended by House “A”)*
AN ACT CONCERNING IMPLEMENTATION OF CONNECTICUT’S
COMPREHENSIVE ENERGY STRATEGY.
SUMMARY:
This bill:
2. expands the ability of electric and telecommunication
companies to trim trees and other vegetation near their lines;

§ 60 — UTILITY TREE-TRIMMING
The bill expands the ability of electric and telecommunication
utilities to trim trees and other vegetation near their lines.
Under current law, electric and telephone companies must seek the
consent of property owners when they cut or trim trees overhanging
highways or public grounds. (The strip between a sidewalk and a
street is typically part of the highway right of way.) If the owner does
not consent, the company can proceed with the approval of PURA or
the municipal tree warden, following notice and an opportunity for a
hearing.
The bill instead allows electric and telecommunications companies,
with somewhat different notice and appeals procedures, to perform
vegetation management in the “utility protection zone” to secure the
reliability of utility services by protecting wires and other utility
infrastructure from trees, shrubs, and other vegetation in the zone.
Under the bill, the zone is the area extending eight feet horizontally
from the outermost line and vertically from the ground to the sky.
Vegetation management includes pruning and removing vegetation
that jeopardizes utility infrastructure, while retaining compatible
vegetation that does not. Until DEEP issues standards for identifying
compatible trees and shrubs, the compatible trees and shrubs are those
listed in the 2012 final report of the State Vegetation Management Task force.

2013HB-06360-

posted by: JCvP on January 17, 2014  4:41pm

The UI plan, ETT, should be subtitled,
TREES: THREAT OR MENACE?
The logical alternative to an insanely simplistic and brutal plan such as UI’s ETT plan (which someone called “Exterminate Terror Trees”) is to break the problem down and apply a reasonable mix of solutions. 1. Identify the worst outage areas and those who feel the most victimized by outages, and ignore whatever doesn’t affect them. (Many people haven’t had more than a very tolerable number hours of power loss over the past decade.) 2. Limit tree cutting and severe “trimming” by using generators; the $100 million UI customers are to be billed could buy quite a few, and UI could make money maintaining them as they do on their whole-house surge protectors. 3. Further limit tree destruction by beginning a 20-year program to bury most lines; UI is quoting falsely inflated costs for such “undergrounding” and citing sea water damage when the facts show many low-lying communities have “undergrounded” for a fraction of what the regular assaults on our trees will cost.
The insanity is that living trees mitigate against climate disruption that is a principal cause of huge weather events. Taking out 150,000 to 300,000 trees as contemplated in UI’s plan will have a pronounced effect on our climate, our nature habitat, our property values, and our aesthetics, not to mention our cooling costs in the summer and our summer power outages from the heightened load. ETT must be tossed out so a balanced group of UI staff, arborists, and neighborhood representatives can come up with a realistic plan with many options to be applied appropriately to the actual needs and circumstances that apply on a house-by-house, block-by-block basis.
Destroying nature is a slippery slope. If UI has the ability to destroy trees equivalent to a large forest, denuding beautiful neighborhoods and degrading the environment and the climate, THEY WILL BE BACK FOR MORE in 5 to 10 years.

posted by: PH on January 17, 2014  4:43pm

Have you seen the tree slaughter on I-91?  It is revolting.  I cannot fathom similarly destructive policies on the city level.  I wholeheartedly support Stratton’s position on this, regardless of whether he needs to update the legislative references.  Trees should come before power lines in this dispute—bring the control back to the people and away from the utility companies.  Utility companies will NEVER try to preserve natural assets when they don’t have to (check out the slaughter of monk parakeets they tried to perpetrate a few years back).  A city full of trees and the multitude of benefits they bring is worth the occasional one day delay in restoring power after a storm.

posted by: JCvP on January 17, 2014  4:46pm

The actual decisions of what should be cut for UI’s benefit are made by a contractor. The contractor is paid by the hour: the more cutting, the more hours, the more money for the contractor. The more trees cut, the fewer crews have to be paid after weather events, and the lower UI’s costs. That means more profit for this private company. The first duty of any stock corporation is to increase profits for shareholders. Do these facts help explain why UI plans to destroy an estimated 150,000 trees, many in our most beautiful neighborhoods?

posted by: BenBerkowitz on January 17, 2014  4:51pm

The tree in the photo above had been documented on SeeClickFix for 18 months before it fell in Irene knocking out the power.

I wonder if UI might rely on citizen reports before blanket tree removal policy?

Just a thought.

posted by: DR on January 17, 2014  5:11pm

As others have said, the weakest trees were taken care of by the Irene and the subsequent storms. Future damage to power lines can be mitigated by sensible pruning of limbs that are problematic.
UI’s proposal should be revisited by the company and replaced with a much less aggressive plan.

posted by: Shaggybob on January 17, 2014  6:17pm

Wow Susan your story is truly horrifying. This is like eminent domain without due process.

The butchering on I-91 is horrifying-I don’t remember the storms causing the highways to be blocked? What will become of the Merritt Parkway-once one of the most scenic highways in America?

8’ was bad enough, but 200’ !! Unacceptable.
It would appear this is a knee-jerk reaction from the power companies to appease the complaints that it took them 3-5 days in urban areas to restore power because they didn’t take action to have the manpower they needed to make the needed repairs.
I am sure the Lorax is crying somewhere.

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on January 17, 2014  9:41pm

I am luvin’ Mike Stratton so far.

posted by: Serf of New Haven on January 17, 2014  10:14pm

Look no farther then Dan Malloy and one of his biggest political contributors. They’re joined at the hip. Another well thought out knee-jerk response to the wave of power outages last five years. Sure they’ve been bad, but New Haven is always up and running after a few days, hardly the suffering of more remote suburban and urban towns that could afford to lose a few trees since those areas are essentially forest from the air.

New Haven without street trees is like cake without frosting. They’re essential to quality of life, especially in the summer. This Stratton guy seems a little different from the rest of them, like he has a functioning brain or something. We need more alders like him.

Ozyck is exactly right, mother nature has done a massive prune job on all the trees in Connecticut from Irene till now. A lot of the hard work has already been done. So now here comes Malloy and his UI bullies to save us from ourselves. We’re going to need all tree huggers on deck for this one. I can tell you from experience, it isn’t going to look pretty when they’re done and the street heat index will be hitting the boiling mark this summer.

You can object to a any city tree that is posted for removal to slow down the process. So stay alert New Haven. You can certainly object to trees on your own property and that objection will save the tree. Also, watch out for the stumps, that’s the hard work, and guess what, they just might leave it for you to deal with. They’re very vague about the old ugly stumps that will take 20 years to rot off.

posted by: yim-a on January 18, 2014  12:46am

Stratton for Mayor, 2016?

posted by: David Sepulveda on January 18, 2014  11:20am

UI’s Draconian trimming agenda must be denied. The stately sycamore on the tree belt in front of my home was denuded(see the 30 sec. Youtube video: “Sycamore Massacre”) by the Asplundh Tree company, hired to do tree routine trimming that did not even address issues related to power lines. The Department of Parks, Recreation and Tree had this to say about the incident: “Mr. Sepulveda, I have been meeting with both the contractor, the supervisors of that crew, and our Urban Forester, Mr. Lage. Concrete steps have been taken and all trucks will be working on police safety trims only until we have met with all crews, supervisors, inspectors and staff. I expect to have more information for you the beginning of next week. Your outrage is understandable and I do not expect a simple apology to suffice. I will be in touch with you next week.”
Citizens, taxpayers, homeowners should be able to expect a comprehensive plan that respects the environment and our neighborhoods with at least a modicum of aesthetic and trimming best practices. I am left to wonder what will be left of the trees that give our street its charm and character, to say nothing of the tangible benefits that the tree canopy provides throughout the city. Solar panels are looking better and better as an alternative to a company that does not respect the quality of life of those it is supposed to serve.

posted by: jim1 on January 18, 2014  12:14pm

You think the town has power over UI??  You must be from some other world.  Just like the town trying to get more money from Yale..  Fat chance…........

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on January 18, 2014  2:16pm

Surely, burying power lines, while a mammoth project, would ultimately be more cost-effective even to the utility company than this fool’s errand of treating the growth of trees as a nuisance or as something that can be controlled by trying to prune them around power lines.  Actually eliminating all the trees that are anywhere near power lines, besides all the other disadvantages too obvious (and horrible) to mention, would cause a spike in air-conditioning use in the summer that would lead to brownouts and a huge headache for UI.

posted by: Syne on January 19, 2014  10:13am

An 8-foot wide corridor is, quite literally, over kill on UI’s part.

posted by: Bradley on January 20, 2014  8:25am

Gretchen, I fully agree with you on the air conditioning impacts of tree removal. But, as Robn indicates, it is highly unlikely that burying the lines would be cost effective.

A few years ago, Yale offered to bury the line on Whitney Ave. from Sachem to Trumbull Streets, at its expense, in connection with its proposed Biology building. I spoke with the architect at Cesar Pelli’s firm who was working on this aspect of the project. She estimated that burying this half mile stretch would cost about a million dollars. I have no reason to believe that she was incompetent or had a financial interest in this issue. Moreover, I have seen comparable estimates from utility regulatory agencies in several other states. In contrast, UI’s tree trimming budget for its entire system is $12.5 million per year.

Undergrounding lines makes economic sense for new construction and in very densely populated areas, e.g., Manhattan. But even in Chicago (my home town), the lines are overhead in most neighborhoods.

To be clear, I am not advocating for UI’s program. But undergrounding the lines is generally not a plausible alternative.

posted by: disconnect on January 20, 2014  9:03am

Want to know what unfettered tree trimming looks like? Drive around West Haven. Seems like we have about half the trees we did in 2000, and there are a lot of trees that look like they were trimmed by a crackhead. Mayor Harp appears to be about as clueless and inept as West Haven’s administration has proven itself to be; not exactly the person you want going up against Big Electricity. (Prediction: when approached by an angry group of citizens complaining about shade tree decimation, Ms. Harp’s reply will be along the lines of, “I’m as surprised as you are, I’ll have to look into that and get back to you.”)

posted by: robn on January 20, 2014  9:48am

GP’s point is good, but the need for more air conditioning means consumption of more of UI’s product at higher demand rates; they win in the tree massacre scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an analysis on this very subject sitting on a shelf somewhere in the bowels of UI. Maybe Atty/Alderman Stratton or a shareholder could get a subpoena for such documents?

posted by: robn on January 20, 2014  9:52am

JCvP,

Could you point us to where you found costs for underground power lines?

posted by: JCvP on January 20, 2014  7:48pm

In response to Robin (and robins require trees!)... At the big public meeting held last Wednesday at Hamden Middle School, Tom Parlapiano cited figures from actual undergrounding work, including in areas lower in sea level than ours, that were more realistic and less in dollars than those quoted by UI. Two points: 1. Using the numbers from your post, the cost per rate payer even at the inflated numbers would be about $6,000 spread over (say) 20 years, by piggybacking on other utility work involving underground installation, and by continuing overhead wiring in areas least at risk. A 40-year bond issue to spread the cost cuts it to an average of around $10 per month per ratepayer. Subtract from that the cost of continual tree-cutting, tree-trimming, and landscape restoration, which is in perpetuity. Subtract the value of 150,000 trees to be cut and severely trimmed over the next 8 years (projected from UI’s own numbers), which is estimated at $10,000 per tree in terms of property values, and some thousands per year in cooling and other benefits. Finally, subtract the value of a forest’s worth of living beings; can we regard an extra average $10 per month as reasonable dues for that?

These numbers are estimates, but I think in general they argue for more than a glib, “The alternative to mowing down the trees would cost billions!”. The facts argue for a deeper study including more well-informed people and more ratepayers with their community’s character at stake. The facts argue for the blended approach the speakers at that public meeting advocated: some “undergrounding”, some generators (for people with wells, vulnerabilities, etc.), and a minimum of cutting, over a 20-year period.

Let’s put aside the understandable panic left over from the bad run of storms. Over the past 20 years, how much actual outage time did the average ratepayer experience? UI promises to cut that by 25%. Is it worth 150,000 trees right where we live. Let’s speak for the trees.

posted by: JCvP on January 20, 2014  8:03pm

Important clarification: the estimates in my most recent post are developed by me from Robin’s numbers and not Tom Parlapiano’s. His were more encouraging and based more on actual cases (as opposed to study estimates) than Robin’s apparently are. Comparing the costs of total “undergrounding” to occasional tree-trimming, while ignoring the tangible and intangible benefits of mature trees, and while ignoring the entire issue of the destruction of the natural environment and the contributions trees make to sequestering massive amounts of carbon and thus mitigating the very climate change that leads to more severe and frequent storms, is to me an obvious FALSE ECONOMY. Comparing the costs of a blended approach that takes into account actual tree values makes an intelligently selective “undergrounding” program a realistic and economically sensible part of that blend.

posted by: cp06 on January 20, 2014  10:32pm

Robn, JCvP and everyone else.

WHY does it have to be “cost per ratepayer” as far as burying the lines. Do we also share the profits they make?

posted by: robn on January 21, 2014  11:44am

JCVP,

Thanks for the very lucid breakdown.

posted by: JCvP on January 21, 2014  2:25pm

We do not share in the profits of UI unless we invest in UI shares, which are actually a pretty good investment. If you invest in a single share for about $38, you can come to shareholder meetings and presumably raise your concerns about company policies. Note: you are not PURCHASING anything, you are INVESTING and can get your money back by selling your share any time. The larger question is, why do publicly owned utility companies cut down fewer trees, deliver more reliable power, and charge MUCH less than profit utility companies? Actually pretty easy to answer, eh? (Hint: the “p” word.) How did we get to a situation where a privately owned company can cut down a forest of trees despite the opposition of the great mass of the citizens in its territory? How can we get back to the public ownership of utilities and the efficiencies they provide? This is not an argument for socialism, since the utilities already have a monopoly; it is an argument for public ownership of monopolies in cases where public ownership is proven to be a better way to go (for everyone but the stockholders and executives of the company). The public company would issue 40-year low-interest bonds to purchase the assets of the private company, hire all the present workers except the overpaid top positions, and continue operations in a smooth transition.
  Did you know that UI is formally regulated by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and that the Environmental Protection people object to the UI tree extermination plan, yet cannot stop it? Does that also imply something about private monopolies?

posted by: robn on January 21, 2014  2:52pm

Well Lets see…UI’s market cap is about $2.1B, so if each of the 325,000 ratepayers can pony up about $3,300 apiece we can do a hostile takeover.
Arrrrrrrh!

posted by: JCvP on January 21, 2014  5:32pm

a 40-year bond issue would make the difference. If simple math is relevant here, then $2.1 billion divided by 40 years (including typical municipal bond interest) would make the cost something like $15 per month per ratepayer to pay off those bonds with interest. Considering that Wallingford’s publicly owned utility is able to charge substantially less per month than UI, those numbers might just work.
  At the public meeting last Wednesday, the UI spokesperson mentioned that UI plans to spend $100 million to cut down our trees as part of its ETT plan (I call it “Extreme Tree Trimming”), and that cost is to be passed along to us ratepayers. Since trees continue to grow, doesn’t it seem logical that they’ll surely be back for more, in perpetuity?

posted by: robn on January 21, 2014  5:59pm

JCVP,

I’m not sure your math is sound.

I don’t know much about munibonds but don’t they pay @5% interest every 6 months? If you’re talking about buying UI outright, bonding $2.1B for 40 years at 5% semi-annually would increase the cost to $10.2B which would be $65 per ratepayer per month.

The only way I get $15 per ratepayer per month is to drop the semi annual interest rate to 0.2%.

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