March 2014

Partnership helps keep the lights on in the Tar Heel State

EnergyUnited, an electric membership cooperative based in Statesville, N.C., relies on just 175 employees to maintain 12,500 miles of lines — including 8,000 miles of overhead distribution lines and 195 miles of overhead transmission lines that deliver power to 122,000 electricity customers spread out across 19 counties in North Carolina.

Like many electric cooperatives, the time to dedicate to the important job of vegetation management is limited. That’s why, when it comes to using herbicides to manage vegetation on its rights-of-way, EnergyUnited relies on the partnerships it’s formed over the years to help with everything from specification to mixing and delivery, all the way through to application and support.

Select an effective herbicide mix.
Dave Schleicher, Vice President of Engineering and Operations for EnergyUnited, has a highly responsive workforce providing safe, reliable and cost effective service to members. This attention to detail has paid dividends.

“We have a 99.98 percent reliability record and excellent customer satisfaction scores,” Schleicher says. “It really helps to have full confidence in the partnerships we have formed when it comes to vegetation management.” And when it comes to vegetation management, herbicides play a big role.

EnergyUnited incorporated herbicides into its vegetation management program in 1990. Since then, herbicide use has expanded as the cost-effectiveness has been realized. Currently, EnergyUnited uses a 50/50 mix of herbicide treatments to mechanical treatments to control vegetation on its rights-of-way.

“We’ve found that using herbicides is about 40 percent cheaper than straight mechanical methods in terms of overall cost,” Steve McCorkle, Utility Forester for EnergyUnited says. “And the herbicide treatments allow us to extend our vegetation management cycles, which are currently every six years.”

CWC Chemical, Inc., based in Cloverdale, Va., works closely with EnergyUnited on specifying and purchasing its herbicides. In particular, Ed Schenk, account manager with CWC Chemical helped specify what herbicides are used in vegetation management applications.

EnergyUnited wanted to keep it simple when it came to working with herbicides. So Schenk devised a single herbicide mix that was labeled for a wide variety of use sites, but that also would take out the species causing problems on EnergyUnited’s rights-of-way, including cedar, Virginia pine, sweetgum, locust, kuzdu and bamboo.

“We specified a mix of Milestone, Rodeo and imazapyr,” Schenk says. “It’s very versatile, so it’s pretty much the only mix they use, and it’s been very effective in controlling what it needs to control.” The mix is delivered in 15-gallon drums with rates of 0.33 percent Milestone® specialty herbicide, 3.75 percent Rodeo® specialty herbicide, 0.5 percent imazapyr and 0.5 percent Aqufact™ adjuvant, mixed with 94.92 percent water.

Delivery system provides efficiency and peace of mind.
Last year, EnergyUnited began getting its preferred herbicide mix custom-blended and delivered. For that, it turned to Dow AgroSciences Continuum® Prescription Control & Container Management System and the Aqumix®, Inc. packaging and container logistics solution. Combined, this closed-loop delivery system provides custom blended herbicide mixes in returnable/refillable containers. It also eliminates container rinsing and disposal, and reduces container storage and handling requirements, labor costs and accidental exposure to workers. Also important for EnergyUnited was the documentation the system provides.

Sammy Keziah is the account manager for Aqumix with Crop Production Services. “EnergyUnited and other similar energy co-ops are many times under pressure from their accounting departments to document exactly what products they’ve used and where,” Keziah says. “The Aqumix system identifies each container using a unique drum number and bar code. AquTrac is our internal operating software, which allows Energy United internet access to its account. This information provides a complete chain of custody for all of its herbicide usage, as well as help with these documentation requirements.”

Reporting is a key feature. “We feel this system helps with alleviating public concerns or opposition to herbicide use — because everything is so buttoned-up,” McCorkle says. “There are landowners who are watching for us to stumble and make a mistake using herbicides,” Steve says. “If a complaint is filed, we are able to come back to them with detailed information on blend and spray reports, down to the specific drum numbers that were used.”

McCorkle also finds this reporting extremely useful when it comes to dealing with recently implemented National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program regulations around applying herbicides near water. The recent NPDES permit regulations have added another layer of complexity to applying herbicides around water. And water is a common obstacle when treating power lines.

“Many times we are treating lines on private property,” McCorkle says. “We get test tubes with every order from Aqumix, so we can perform soil samples.” The NPDES program requires applicators to keep good records of applications. Failure to do so results in fines.

“You get what you pay for — everything comes premixed exactly to spec, ready-to-use, and we can easily record and track everything, which is helpful with landowner complaints and NPDES requirements,” McCorkle says. “On top of it all, we get the manufacturer support from Dow AgroSciences if any issues were to arise.”

Responsible applicators navigate diverse geography and wildlife.
Many miles of EnergyUnited’s distribution or transmission lines and their respective rights-of-way weave through diverse geography — presenting additional challenges for treating vegetation.

“Our lines cross through pastureland where livestock is grazing, around bodies of water, through high-end residential developments with homeowners, and near crop fields planted with everything from corn to more sensitive crops like tobacco,” McCorkle says. “Well-trained and responsible herbicide applicators are needed to avoid running into problems.”

EnergyUnited uses contract applicators for all its spray work. Every three to five years, the cooperative bids out the work to highly regarded applicators in the area — judging them on three key attributes: reputation, performance and cost.

"Choosing the correct application partner means the cooperative receives quality workmanship and in return receives fewer complaints, so we are able to focus our attention on other things,” McCorkle says. “This is why we chose carefully.” In 2013, EnergyUnited contracted with Top Gun Application Services, LLC, based in Inman, S.C.

EnergyUnited also works hard to keep its rights-of-way habitable for native wildlife and plants, especially the several federally endangered plants that are present, including Georgia aster, Michaux’s Sumac and the Schweintz’s sunflower. Furthermore, McCorkle loops in environmental groups in the area such as the Pollinator Partnership and the National Wild Turkey Foundation on things like creating corridors for wildlife on the floors of the transmission lines, something of which he is especially proud.

EnergyUnited is challenged with providing safe and reliable service to its members while protecting the environment for future generations. The cooperative’s employees will continue to promote environmental stewardship and be leaders in protecting and enhancing the environment.

For EnergyUnited, many hands working together does help make the work light, and keeps the lights on for its members across North Carolina.