Intelligent Vegetation Management for Utilities

Athena Intelligence
4 min readJun 1, 2024


A Key Tool in PSPS and SAIFI Management

Power companies aim to maintain reliability as close to 100% as possible, but the goal of preventing wildfires and ensuring public safety can impact reliability metrics. Thoughtful and well-executed vegetation management plans have been shown to reduce the System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI). Simply put, trees are a significant source of power outages. Integrating Vegetation Management into Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) preparation and planning can significantly reduce system downtime during these events.

Researchers at CalPoly (California State University in San Luis Obispo) have demonstrated that utility managers can mitigate wildfire risks through effective vegetation management. For example, a study of 13 years of vegetation management at Connexus Energy (Minnesota’s largest public-owned electric co-op) found that areas with enhanced tree pruning experienced 35% or higher reductions in storm-related outages. This translated to 0.07 to 0.36 fewer outages per kilometer per year compared to untreated areas.

Lowering Wildfire Risk Along T&D Systems Long Term

To achieve the lowest level of risk, some utilities like the Sacramento Municipal Utility District are adopting advanced vegetation management strategies. A second study by Connexus Energy found that vegetation-related outages per circuit increased by nearly 0.2 per year, concluding that trees were the primary cause of power outages. This information is crucial for public utility commissions, city councils, and electric company boards.

Utility executives are also concerned with customer rates and want evidence that investments in safety are worthwhile. Enter Athena Intelligence.

Athena Intelligence: A New Tool for Vegetation Managers

Athena’s Voice of the Acre® algorithm identifies locations at risk for catastrophic wildfires. It allows users to explore data on risk components, where to mitigate, and how much to mitigate. This enables planning, budgeting, and significant wildfire risk reduction, ultimately improving reliability statistics.

Athena saves utilities money. Environmental Consultants, Inc., found that deferring tree pruning from the optimal line clearance increases costs by approximately 20% annually. By identifying high-risk areas and the necessary vegetation removal, utilities can improve reliability and avoid unnecessary expenses.

Prioritizing High-Risk Areas for PSPS Planning

Understanding the highest risk areas is essential for PSPS planning. Randy Lyle, a former CalFire Division Chief and Principal at Wildfire Mitigation Strategies, describes how his clients use Athena to reduce time, costs, and build consensus on priorities.

From initial analysis, vegetation management managers can plan activities such as canopy reduction, ground cover reduction, prescribed burns, and fire break creation. While ignitions can occur anywhere, the largest risks often lie in uninhabited wildlands. Vegetation management must account for the probability of wildfires spreading to Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) areas, especially where T&D lines might cause an ignition.

Your Unique Landscape

Every utility’s area has unique challenges, but broad patterns exist. Strategic vegetation management benefits utilities by altering the fire environment, reducing engineering and equipment requirements, and supporting surrounding communities.

Athena’s maps and data insights can enhance public outreach and cooperation between utility engineers, maintenance managers, and vegetation managers. Successful wildfire prevention requires sophisticated, nuanced expertise.

Vegetation managers work with landowners, federal and state agencies, regulatory bodies, customers, fire prevention agencies, foresters, and contractors. Athena supports utilities in making a persuasive case for planning, mitigation actions, and efforts to avoid wildfire losses.

Intelligent Vegetation Management

For utilities aiming to balance reliability and safety, particularly in reducing wildfire risks and minimizing power outages, vegetation management is critical. Effective vegetation management, integrated into Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) planning, can significantly lower the System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) and reduce system downtime. Research from multiple sources has shown strategic tree pruning and vegetation control can markedly decrease storm-related outages and overall risks.

Tools like Athena’s Voice of the Acre® algorithm provide actionable insights for utilities, helping them prioritize high-risk areas, plan effectively, and save costs. This strategic approach fosters collaboration among utility engineers, maintenance managers, and vegetation managers, ultimately enhancing public safety and system reliability.

Athena Intelligence is a data vendor with a geospatial, conditional, profiling tool that pulls together vast amounts of disaggregated wildfire and environmental data to generate spatial intelligence, resulting in a digital fingerprint of wildfire risk. (

Clients include electric utilities, communities, insurance and financial services companies, where Athena’s geospatial intelligence incorporated into wildfire mitigation plans (WMP) and public safety power shutoffs (PSPS), Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP), property insurance underwriting and portfolio risk optimization.

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Athena Intelligence

Athena Intelligence weaves vast amounts of disaggregated environmental data. Drop us a line (, or visit