With more than 34,000 square miles in the APS service territory, proper land use and maintaining biodiversity are important factors in our operations. We ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems by employing an integrated vegetation management (IVM) approach to habitat management. IVM allows us to implement optimal vegetation management methods for transmission rights-of-way and along our distribution lines, based on environmental impact and anticipated effectiveness combined with site characteristics and social, economic and land-use factors. The Vice President of Transmission and Distribution Operations has governance over biodiversity issues which are managed by the Forestry & Special Programs Department. This group manages the vegetation growing around APS facilities and equipment—including substations, overhead power lines and poles—to ensure safe and reliable delivery of electricity. APS Forestry maintains more than 20,000 miles of overhead power lines throughout Arizona.

In 2018, APS Forestry cleared potentially hazardous vegetation from 2,524 miles on 248 distribution feeders and from 1,561 miles on 68 transmission feeders. A total of 30,396 vegetation units were pruned, with 10,773 trees removed.

A variety of operations-related environmental programs are in place to effectively manage vegetation in and around company facilities and rights-of-way.

Fire Mitigation

In Arizona, about half of primary residential and commercial structures are located near the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Due to extended drought over the past decade, forests and vegetation have been stressed from the lack of regular and sufficient moisture, compounded by shorter, drier winters and longer, warmer summers. These changes in weather patterns pose a fire risk to the communities we serve. To effectively respond to this risk, we collaborate with key stakeholders to reduce wildland fire risk and create defensible space throughout Arizona.

Through proactive fire-mitigation measures, APS works to reduce the likelihood of fire in and around electrical equipment. Mitigation initiatives include the deployment of infrastructure systems technology as well as mobile technology to track and report fires. These technological innovations allow us to be more proactive and nimble in our efforts to provide for first responders and the safety of our customers.

We use a three-pronged approach to mitigate fire risk. First, we assess site-specific fire risk and develop a model to prioritize resources. Second, we educate and inform the communities we serve about fire mitigation. Third, we implement a proactive program to create defensible space around poles (DSAP) to address vegetation at the base of utility poles. The goal of the DSAP program is to remove combustible material inside a minimum 10-foot radius around equipment poles on a three-year cycle. APS rights-of-way, which are cleared of vegetation, are used by firefighters to suppress wildfires across Arizona. Since 2000, APS rights-of-way have been used to suppress 37 large fires of 100 acres or more.

The effectiveness of our fire mitigation efforts is evident during events such as the Tinder Fire on the Coconino National Forest during the summer of 2018. During this event, APS crews collaborated with state and local officials to de-energize power lines and ensure the safety of homes and residents in the affected area. As a result of the defensible space created in our utility corridor, the fire was prevented from reaching many of our poles and damaging our lines. This greatly improved our ability to quickly restore service after the fire was contained. Due to our successes in mitigating fires such as the Tinder Fire, energy companies in other states have sought our expertise in fire mitigation and service restoration during events such as the wildfires that devastated Northern California in 2017 and 2018.

Vegetation and Powerlines

Public safety and service reliability are top priorities at APS, and we work to ensure that trees are planted in locations compatible with overhead power lines. When it is necessary to remove tall trees growing under or near lines, we often offer customers low-growing replacement trees.

We also educate and encourage our communities to plant based on the standards established in our “Right Tree, Right Place” program. This program promotes safe tree planting near power lines. Landscaping companies and homeowners are encouraged to choose and plant trees for a lifetime of beauty, safety and energy efficiency. This program also supports the local plant nursery industry.

APS educates community members about vegetation and power lines by hosting Arbor Day celebrations at schools and municipal parks statewide. Events such as tree-planting ceremonies on school or park grounds educate the public about the importance of trees in the environment.

Wildlife and Rare Plant Protection Programs

Our Forestry & Special Programs Department has a dedicated staff of natural resource professionals, including foresters, arborists, biologists and archaeologists. They work to ensure we remain in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other applicable statutes and regulations.

Within Forestry & Special Programs is the Avian Protection Program. It was created in the 1990s to address the problem of large birds coming into contact with energized power lines and equipment. Eagles, hawks, ravens and owls are attracted to power poles as a place to perch, roost, nest and hunt. The large wingspans of these birds make them vulnerable to electrocution. In addition to minimizing injury to wildlife, the program also improves the reliability of our energy delivery system by reducing outages. To mitigate electrical contact, we adopted and practice proactive best-management construction standards and design strategies from the Edison Electric Institute’s Avian Power Line Interaction Committee.

The Avian Protection Program also conducts a comprehensive nest-management program to protect birds that build nests on electrical equipment. A utility pole nest platform that we developed can be installed in a safe place if nests pose a hazard for birds or electrical equipment. APS partners with wildlife rehabilitation organizations such as Liberty Wildlife to assist with the relocation of nests to the nest platforms.

We have implemented a wide range of programs for the protection of threatened and endangered plants and wildlife, partnering with federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Game and Fish and U.S. Forest Service. Comprehensive analysis and consultation is conducted ensuring compliance with the Endangered Species Act, and conservation measures are implemented for the protection of threatened and endangered plants, wildlife and habitats. We also support local initiatives to protect sensitive wildlife and rare plants.

APS collaborates with numerous environmental and conservation organizations and agencies on public education and awareness programs, habitat-enhancement projects, biological assessments and species-conservation plans.

Endangered Fish and Bird Recovery Program

The biological opinion for the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project, developed as part of a Section 7 consultation conducted when renewing the plant and mine permits, was implemented July 6, 2016, and will extend 25 years, through 2041. As part of the settlement, Four Corners and the Navajo Mine agreed to reduce potential impacts associated with their operation by implementing certain Reasonable and Prudent Measures (RPMs) designed to protect endangered fish (Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker) in the San Juan River and birds (southwestern willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo) in the plant’s deposition area.

A Four Corners/Navajo Mine annual report was sent to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) in February 2018 as required. This report summed up progress on RPMs in 2017. Following is a summary of RPM work performed in 2018:

  • Federal agencies performed studies of mercury and selenium deposition on endangered fish in the San Juan River.
  • Four Corners developed and implemented a pumping plan (approved by OSMRE in 2017) and modified the San Juan River intake structure to minimize potential for impingement and entrainment of endangered fish.
  • Four Corners constructed a non-native fish escapement structure in 2017 and received approval of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in May 2018. This structure was operated successfully through 2018, preventing release of non-native fish from Morgan Lake to the San Juan River.
  • The Four Corners spill prevention control and countermeasures plan was approved by USFWS and OSMRE in May 2018. This plan ensures that Four Corners has a plan to address catastrophic failure of impoundments at the plant.
  • An annual survey of endangered birds in the Four Corners deposition area was conducted in 2018 and submitted to OSMRE, as required in November 2018. Both southwestern willow flycatchers and yellow-billed cuckoos were found during the study.

Additional 2018 Accomplishments

  • 2 million gallons of water saved annually from our 100% non-water herbicide program
  • 850 existing poles modified to meet avian protection standards
  • APS was recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as recipient of the Tree Line USA Award for the 22nd year
  • APS is one of seven energy companies to maintain five years of accreditation from the Right-of-Way Stewardship Council in responsible right-of-way vegetation management
  • Development of the APS Comprehensive Fire Mitigation Plan
  • Treatment of DSAP poles in the Wildland-Urban Interface

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