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Today is May 9, 2021

Trees and rights-of-way

Cooperative Energy wins national Arbor Day award

By Steven Ward

Trees and rights-of-way

When Wes Graham first inspected Cooperative Energy’s rights-of-way 16 years ago, he did not see a challenge but an opportunity. An opportunity to change how vegetation management was accomplished. And now, both National and state officials have taken notice.

The Hattiesburg-based generation and transmission cooperative was recently named a Tree Line USA utility for 2021. The designation, awarded to Cooperative Energy by the Mississippi Forestry Commission, reflects the cooperative’s commitment to implementing best practices in caring for trees along its rights-of-way.

Cooperative Energy is currently the only utility in Mississippi with this status.

“I think this is a testament to Cooperative Energy and what we do here. It’s an honor and privilege to do this work and show people that we are good stewards of other people’s land,” said Graham, a transmission field biologist and Cooperative Energy’s right-of-way (ROW) program supervisor.

Tree Line USA is a national program of the Arbor Day Foundation. Utilities must meet five program criteria to earn the designation: provide quality tree care, administer annual worker training, conduct tree planting and public education, facilitate a tree-based energy conservation program, and host an Arbor Day celebration.

The award illustrates how the Cooperative Energy ROW team works to ensure that trees and utilities can co-exist for the benefit of communities, citizens and the cooperative’s consumer-members.

Cooperative Energy’s right-of-way team maintains approximately 28,000 acres of rights-of-way across the state using integrated vegetation management techniques that control growth through environmentally- sound and cost-effective control methods. Graham and fellow team members Tommy Garrard, Brad Morris and William Murphy work diligently to balance the cooperative’s needs as a utility with their commitment to the environment.

“This work lends itself to increasing reliability to our members. Outages will be minimized as a result,” Graham said.

In many cases, the cooperatives are already doing a lot of the ROW work required for the award.

“I’m just proud to represent the state in this way and it’s a reflection of our entire company. It really is a team effort. And it shows our members that we are doing our due diligence,” Graham said.

Jeff Bowman, Cooperative Energy’s president and CEO, said the designation aligns with the cooperative’s mission.

“Trees which are properly planted and maintained result in lower line clearance costs, improved rights-of-way management, lower peak energy demand and increased reliability of service,” Bowman said in a news release.

Cooperative Energy generates and transmits electricity to11 member-owned electric distribution cooperatives. The 11electric cooperatives own and maintain more than 57,000miles of distribution lines and provide service to approximately432,000 home and businesses throughout 55 counties.

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