El Paso Electric on maximizing resources to minimize threats from vegetation overgrowth: DistribuTECH 2024


  • El Paso Electric (EPE) needed to maximize their existing resources to meet rising vegetation management threats.
  • They precisely focused on problem areas and tactically assigned crews using AiDash IVMSTM technology.
  • They reallocated 7.7% of their O&M budget to critical areas, improved safety conditions for workers, and increased reliability for customers in the pilot.

The wind was high in El Paso, Texas, on the evening of March 4, 2022. EPE’s Victor Bishop got a notification no distribution crew supervisor wants to see: One of their distribution feeders was out. And it was out in spectacular fashion—engulfed in flames. His team acted quickly, and they were about to route power to that line via a flip flop until the feeder could be repaired.

It’s a good thing, too, because there was a hospital on that line. “Had that flip flop not worked, of course the hospital would have been out of lights,” Bishop told a crowd from the stage at DistribuTECH 2024.


What happened? As is often the case, the outage was caused by the high winds impacting tree overgrowth. Of course, outages caused by vegetation overgrowth happen all the time. According to a study by the Tulane University Law School, tree and power line conflicts are responsible for as much as 70-80% of all outages nationwide.

But Bishop was alarmed by this particular outage, because that feeder should have been clear from vegetation overgrowth. “It had been trimmed a year and a half prior to [the outage],” he said. El Paso Electric maintains vegetation on its feeders on approximately 3-year trim cycles, so not only should there have been no vegetation encroachment to speak of, but they also weren’t going to inspect it again for another year and a half.

“This was kind of an eye-opener,” he said.

Low resources, lots of line miles

This sort of event is unnerving in part because it makes you wonder if there are other areas of overgrowth elsewhere that are already problematic outside of the regular maintenance cycle.

EPE has about 5,000 line miles of distribution overhead conductors. Their service territory spans from the far western part of Texas all the way to southern New Mexico, with diverse vegetation that includes both desert and river valley areas.

That vegetation program is managed by one person — Victor Bishop — on a budget of $2.6 million.

Per their 3-year vegetation maintenance (VM) schedule, EPE services and trims about 130 of their 400 feeders each year. All of it had to be inspected manually. What’s more, the processes on Bishop’s end were manual, too. He had to download and physically print out maps for his contractors. And he only has so many crews (14) at his disposal, and they charge by the hour.

It was just not an efficient system.

The lack of efficiency, coupled with the limited resources, was a vexing problem. How could EPE become more proactive in preventing tree-related outages? Short of securing much more budget and hiring substantially more crews — which he knew was not going to happen — Bishop needed a better VM system.

So, EPE launched a pilot program with AiDash.

Working more efficiently

“Within this pilot program, I quickly realized how much more efficient I could be, since I’m a one-man show,” Bishop said.

For one thing, he was able to plan, assign, and track work from his desktop and push that out to his contractors via the mobile app, instead of printing out maps and highlighting things for them.

He was also able to much more precisely and tactically look at where they needed to focus their work, thanks to the color-coded map from AiDash.


AiDash color coded trim map for El Paso Electric


“When we were on our manual program, we went in there and trimmed everything that was within 5 feet, because I wasn’t going to see that feeder for another 3 years,” said Bishop. “Now [that] I look back on it, we wasted a lot of time on that. Had we had this program, and now that we do have this program, I can go tackle exactly what I need to tackle to prevent an outage.”

So now, instead of always cutting everything back by a certain number of feet, they can see specifically where encroachment is a threat and focus their limited resources accordingly.

On top of that, AiDash lets Bishop verify that the work has been completed and that clearances are within an acceptable range, freeing him from having to drive out and inspect it all in person.

In one specific example in his DistribuTECH presentation, Bishop showed how he was able to curb costs on trimming a specific feeder. Because of the color-coding, he could see what needed to be trimmed immediately (red) and what could be left for a while longer (orange).

“It cost me $11,620 to trim what was going to cause an outage,” said Bishop. With the older manual process, they would have trimmed the areas marked in orange, too, even though they didn’t pose an immediate threat, because they had to live with the 3-year trim cycle. Because AiDash helped them be precise, they made far more efficient use of their budget. “I calculated about $20,000 that I didn’t have to spend here that I’m able to spend somewhere else,” Bishop noted.

What they gained

For its pilot program with AiDash, EPE focused on 19 of their 408 feeders. Bishop said they chose feeders in areas of particularly dense vegetation — mainly river valleys (as opposed to their desert locales, where they mostly deal with short mesquite shrubs). The area they chose covers 300 miles of transmission circuits.

From that area alone, EPE expects to reclaim over $202,000 in expenses that they can reallocate to critical areas. That’s about 7.7% of Bishop’s total operations and maintenance (O&M) budget.

EPE is in the process of deploying AiDash statewide. They expect improvements in all these areas:

  • 5-10% cost efficiency.
  • Safety for contractors and private contractors.
  • Reliability for customers (SAIDI/SAIFI).
  • Determining actual clearances remotely and precisely.
  • Efficient use of resources.
  • Tree growth analysis.
  • Preparation for climate changes.

A big lesson Bishop says they learned from the AiDash pilot is that satellite and AI technology offer them a more efficient way to manage vegetation and prepare for threats from high winds. And they can do more —and do better—with the same resources.

“I need my tree trimmers to be out there trimming trees, not to be going and scouting for me,” he said. “This program here is doing it for me.”

Get more information about AiDash’s Intelligent Vegetation Management System here.