When spring approaches, it is common in our area to see the smoke that prescribed burning (controlled burning) brings. Controlled burning is the skillful application of fire to a specific site under selected weather conditions to accomplish specific land management objectives. Prescribed burning is one of the most cost-effective methods for managing vegetation. It can also reduce the thick litter layer accumulations that can inhibit wildlife mobility or smother the growth of beneficial grasses and wildflowers. Prescribed burning can also boost pasture productivity, reduce the spread of plant diseases, and serve as a precursor to herbicide and tillage treatments to remove standing vegetation that would impede the efficient application of these practices. Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative understands the importance of this process and is proud to serve and partner with our agricultural members who perform controlled burning.
NIPCO has seen an increase in this vegetation management practice throughout its service territory during the spring months and urges anyone performing controlled burns to consider electric utility infrastructure before and during the process. Every year, electric transmission poles are damaged during controlled burns, resulting in the need for the infrastructure to be replaced. Current drought conditions and high winds this spring have resulted in increased structure damage caused by burns that have gotten out of control.
In 2022, eight poles/pole structures were impacted by out-of-control burning in its service territory. The cost to replace a single, damaged 65-foot pole can average six thousand dollars. While landowners who report damaged poles are responsible for replacement costs, many poles weakened or damaged by burns go unreported. Unreported damage to poles may not be discovered until NIPCO crews identify them during routine inspection procedures or when the poles break, sometimes years after they are damaged by burns, resulting in power interruption.
It is vital to remind landowners to work with their local fire department and follow safe vegetation management practices to keep cooperative members, utility workers, and first responders safe and minimize costs to electric cooperatives. Expenses to replace burnt poles can impact NIPCO's operational margins, ultimately affecting NIPCO's wholesale rates. And that makes everyone hot under the collar.