KXAN (AUSTIN) — A federal law designed to lower inflation and increase jobs provide an additional resource to Austin’s tree trimming efforts following the winter storm that knocked out power for thousands.
During the winter snap in early February, trees became frozen and branches snapped under the weight of the ice. Those branches fell on cars, homes, and power lines.
Austin Energy is the sole city department responsible for trimming the tree branches around the city’s power infrastructure.
How much trimming is needed?
A spokesman for the department told KXAN there are 2,400 miles of power lines that need trimming services.
Crews are unable to get through all 2,400 miles of power lines every year. Instead, crews work on trimming trees in a cycle.
Austin Energy says hundreds of miles of power lines are scheduled for tree trimming every year. Those lines cross through between 9,000 and 12,000 properties.
The utility has $17.5 million set aside in its yearly budget for tree trimming services. That money goes to three contracted companies: Asplundh, Davey Tree Surgery, Wright Tree Service & Davey Resource Group-Work Planning.
The intent of the tree trimming services is to keep limbs clear of power lines for seven years. The spokesman for Austin Energy says extreme weather can cause unforeseen issues. During the winter storm, the utility says trees that had 15-foot clearance from power lines fell or uprooted onto the power infrastructure.
The utility also works with private homeowners to prevent trees from getting too close to power lines.
Additional help within inflation law
The Inflation Reduction Act, signed by President Biden in August of 2022, could provide some additional funding for tree trimming efforts.
The act allocated $1.5 billion to the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry program. The program is designed to provide funding to cities and states to grow the urban forest around the country.
Joel Pannell, the vice president of urban forest policy for American Forests, a national non-profit, says the funding is also used for tree maintenance. That includes trimming trees around power lines.
Pannell believes Austin could get a slice of that $1.5 billion pie.
“If they have identified maintenance as a priority then I think their proposal should spell that out, and it will be a very competitive proposal that can be funded in partnership with the Forest Service,” Pannell explained.
The U.S. Forest Service is currently only accepting program proposals from states and territories, but Pannell says the department will start accepting proposals from cities and municipalities as early as this spring.