Trees & Utility Lines Aren’t Good Companions

Tree trimming is one of an electric utility’s highest maintenance expenses, and you, the ratepayers, foot the bill. There is something homeowners and municipalities can do to rein in those costs. Plant lower growing trees near power lines.

Safely providing consistent power is the utilities’ number one priority. So, trees that interfere with utility wires are going to be pruned to maintain state-mandated distances from wires. Besides looking less attractive, excessively pruned trees’ lives may be shortened. They will be under stress, which can lead to insect and disease attacks.

Most property owners, both private and public, believe there is nothing they can do except lament the aggressive pruning required by the New York State Public Service Commission. But there is something you can do. If you have a tree interfering with power lines in your yard, have it removed and replaced with a lower growing tree.

With the high winds that we experienced in Western New York recently, I felt it important to share a factor our designers take into consideration when deciding on tree placement. That is the location of utilities. I hope you’ll also keep it in mind as you plan the addition of trees to your landscape. It’s important to look up as well as down. Electric, telephone and cable wires can be either above ground or under ground. Gas, water and sewer are always underground and if you have a septic system it is critical to avoid interfering with that. The final height and spread of the tree have to be considered when planning where to plant. Below ground, the spread of the root system comes into play. Roots often grow great distances beyond the dripline (edge of the leaf canopy),

Underground, roots can be growing near or around utilities. If it’s necessary for the utilities to dig down and repair their infrastructure, roots may be severed in the process, increasing the tree’s stress. Before digging the hole to plant a tree, it’s necessary to call the local utility locator service. A representative will come to your property, locate the utilities and put little flags in the ground. If you don’t have utilities flagged and cause damage, you may be responsible for the repair. To schedule flagging, you can phone 811 or contact your utility or town hall for the number of the service they use. To contact a utility locator service online, google utility locators and your Zip code.

Proper tree selection and placement can reduce danger, reduce power outages, improve your landscape appearance and reduce costs for utilities and their customers. Trees that grow 60 feet or taller should be planted a minimum of 35 feet from a structure like a house or electric lines. Those that grow up to 40 feet should be planted at least 15 feet from structures or wires. Only trees growing 20 feet or less should be planted within 15 feet of wires.

Local governments and utilities have been given an “easement” to enter your property to maintain their infrastructure. However, you are responsible for any necessary pruning of trees interfering with service lines coming from the pole to your home. That’s why it behooves you to plant only low growing plants around utility wires.

2 comments on “Trees & Utility Lines Aren’t Good Companions

  1. BINGO! As an arborist, I hear clients complain about this frequently. I also get it from treehuggers. (This is California.) I remind people that clearance pruning is necessary, and that those doing it can not always prioritize what is right for the tree. I also advise some that they can get qualified arborists to clean up some of the disfigurement after the clearance pruning is done. It certainly will not correct the damage, but for some trees, makes the damage less unsightly.

  2. I never thought about replanting a tree in place of one that needs to be removed. My brother lives in NY and has been told a tree needs to be removed. I’ll be letting him know.

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