Now here's an idea.
The Board of Public Utilities, which usually focuses on arcane, complicated matters of utility rates and regulation, has begun to examine what can be done about a far more mundane matter: Trees. Specifically, trees that fall down on power lines in storms and cause outages.
Better "vegetation management," as it is called in the electrical power business, can reduce outages, the BPU has determined.
New Jersey utilities began to focus more intensely on trimming tree limbs near power lines after the June 2012 derecho. Still, during Hurricane Sandy approximately 100,000 trees fell on power lines around the state, according to NJSpotlight.com.
The head of Atlantic City Electric said in a March 2013 letter to the editor that the utility had "tripled the cost allocation for our vegetation management plan." But drive down almost any road in South Jersey and you can spot tree limbs that are dangerously close to power lines and that look like they are going to take out the line in the next storm.
If this is so easy for motorists to spot, why is it so difficult for utilities to do something about it - before thousands are inconvenienced by hours or days without electrical power?
Now, at least, the BPU is stepping up the process, approving a staff recommendation to consult with utilities, local officials and forestry experts to develop more aggressive vegetation-management programs. Regulators have traditionally focused on protecting high-voltage transmission lines. But now distribution lines, which deliver power to homes, will be the focus.
One proposal would set up a tracking system for tree-related outages in an effort to identify trees likely to fall on power lines. Another possibility is determining that only some tree species be allowed within utilities' rights-of-way.
All of this is welcome and overdue - but it does seem overly bureaucratic. Finding the problem trees isn't difficult - all you have to do is look. We're betting each reader of this editorial could easily point out a half-dozen trees posing risks to power lines in their neighborhoods.
To be fair, there is another side to the problem. Some people get very angry when the power company trims trees on their street.
We get that. We like trees too - a lot.
But extreme weather and power outages certainly seem to be a growing problem. Tree limbs falling on lines are a major culprit in these outages. And ordering utilities to do a more aggressive job of vegetation management would seem to be a no-brainer for the BPU - and a major plus for everyone else.