Why should you and your company contribute to the Utility Arborist Research Fund?

Why should you and your company contribute to the Utility Arborist Research Fund?

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By Derek Vannice, UARF Fundraising Committee Chair and CN Utility Consulting Vice President of Operations

The Utility Arborist Association and the Tree Research & Education Endowment (TREE) Fund, a foundation dedicated to supporting sustainable communities and environmental stewardship through research, scholarship and public education, are partnering to raise 1 million dollars to fund utility vegetation management research now and into the future. Your contributions to this effort will impact your company’s bottom line. How? Let me tell you. I want to share with you why this fund is needed, the problems it will address, a brief history of the fund, some examples of utility-related research that has already been funded, and the types of research your contribution can support going forward.

A 2009 comprehensive utility vegetation management benchmark project that included more than 60 utility companies indicated that our greatest challenge is that there is not enough science-based knowledge available to make informed decisions. Compared to the 4 billion dollars spent on vegetation management annually, there is very little spent on utility vegetation management research. The research that is funded is being conducted inhouse, and it isn’t being communicated to the industry as a whole. To influence policy makers and regulators, we need to fund research that is scientifically based, statistically significant, and has the credibility to be published in peer reviewed journals. We need to be able to transfer the knowledge to foresters and arborists throughout the industry, resulting in improved vegetation management practices, safer working conditions, and sustainable right of ways.

A few years ago, the system forester at Arizona Public Service Company (APS), Mike Neal, had a vision to support research in utility vegetation management into the future by starting an endowment fund. To date, APS has contributed more than $95,000 to the fund. In 2010, the UAA realized the importance of the fund, and APS turned the fund over to UAA and the TREE Fund. Both of these associations are 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. Therefore, donations are tax deductable charitable contributions.

There is evidence that relatively small investments (less than $100,000) in research can yield large returns for our industry.

The Bramble and Burns research has been published widely and established positive environmental impacts when herbicides are used to manage vegetation under transmission lines. The use of herbicides is one of the most cost-effective means to manage vegetation and meet FAC 003-1 requirements.

The economic research project on the cost of deferred maintenance examined the increased cost to prune trees around power lines when cycles were not maintained due to budget cuts. There is truly an economic incentive and cost savings over time to maintain budgets for pruning. The most recent funded research developed a Best Management Practice for Western States to assess tree risk. This research can aid the utility in defense of their inspection practices and provides an industry-consensus standard when faced with the possibility of legal action.

The BMP for Tree Risk Assessment and Abatement for Western States is the perfect case study on how we can build the endowment fund for important projects and get the results in the hands of utilities. A west coast utility recognized a need to develop an industry accepted Best Management Practice for Tree Risk Assessment on Transmission Right of Ways. The UAA Research Committee developed the RFP and determined who received the project. The UAA then worked with the TREE Fund to get the project funded.

$75,000 was raised for the project, with PG&E as the major contributor along with three other utilities and two contractors. PG&E was the utility that had the original request. The project came in under budget and the remainder of funds were donated the Utility Arborist Research Fund. This is a perfect example of how we can provide useful research projects for utilities on an ongoing basis and still build the endowment to fund research in the future.

As shown in the previous example, one of the most important aspects of the Utility Arborist Research Fund (UARF) is in the determination of how the funds will be used. The UAA Research Committee, whose members work for various utilities, consultants and contractors, will work with the industry to determine the current research priorities that will have the biggest impact on the industry.

It will be industry professionals, including researchers, who will review the proposals to ensure that the funded research is conducted properly and is relevant to our industry. At this time we are seeking support of research focusing on the cost of deferred maintenance and of building the endowment.

There are several ways that your company can make a contribution. Your donation can make an immediate impact by funding key research priorities where we already have proposals awaiting funding. This research will produce real results, so an annual or more regular contribution can be justified to upper management at your company.

You can make a one time contribution as well. Every little bit helps.

Any funds that are donated to the TREE Fund can be directed to the UARF.

If you believe in what we are doing like we do, we invite you to help us. Make a contribution and challenge other companies and colleagues in the industry to do the same. To date, over $175,000 has been raised for the fund. Where else can you make a donation to research and see the results in your program’s bottom line?

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