Trees and Power Lines – Can they Coexist?
I am a frustrated tree lover! Over the past couple of weeks I have watched helplessly as trees were disfigured and taken down to prepare for the coming winter. Apparently 30% of all power outages are caused by falling limbs and trees on power lines.
Many of the trees being cut and trimmed are highly valued street or landscape trees. And we’re left with weird shapes and unsightly branching as the end result, with little concern for the tree of the benefit it provides.
Listen, I understand the danger and the costs, I get it. But the solution seems short-sighted.
Thomas Edison had a vision where every building or home would produce its own energy from within, each having its own generator capable of producing electricity. His original plan was not this tangled and complex power grid of power lines. I first learned of his vision while touring Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. The main building on campus was originally a hotel where Mr. Edison installed huge electric generators himself.
For me, power lines are invasive, ugly and they steal the beauty of our landscapes and streets. At my last home, I went to great expense to have all power lines buried simply to enjoy the benefits and beauty of my trees uninterrupted and without fear of imposed power line tree trimming. No power outages were ever caused by my trees.
I am fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood today where all electric services are also underground. I enjoy the pristine unspoiled landscape. I realize this is not always an option for everyone, but I’m advocating that it become one.
Bottom line is that it is time that trees become a top priority for our everyday landscape. This will take years, I suppose, but it makes sense. If 30% of power outages are caused by trees, then we can solve the problem two ways:
1) change our planting behavior
2) change the way our power companies accomplish their goals and contribute to the community
Change Our Planting Behavior
This is simple: only plant trees near power lines that grow to mature sizes that won’t extend into the ‘prune zone.’ If you have a 30’ clearance, plant a tree that grows to 25’ or less. If you have a 60’ clearance, you’re probably safe to plant just about any tree. This solves the problem moving forward, but we have many beautiful existing trees in our communities.
Change the Way Our Power Companies Accomplish their Goals
This, admittedly, is not as simple. But for the first time, here are some guidelines for the power companies:
1) Bury all power lines to avoid future disruptions in service and associated costs. This will also save money on power line tree trimming.
2) When it is possible to place electric lines underground, do so in a manner that limits restrictions on where we plant in our landscapes. Trees will serve to reduce the demands for power by cooling and screening/warming our homes.
3) When it is not possible to place lines underground, install poles with concern for the beauty of our living spaces and landscape views. Perhaps a collaborative partnership between the power companies and city planning and/or the Department of Natural Resources.
4) Provide homeowners and businesses with tree planting incentives, programs and guides that will enhance the beauty of the American landscape, minimize tree pruning expenses, reduce the effect of trees on power lines, reduce energy bills and minimize the invasive-ness of the electrical grid.
5) When pruning is required, consider the value of the tree to our living environment, our culture, community and the many benefits the tree provides. Seek other options rather than disfiguring pruning, such as removal and replacement with a more suitably sized tree.
I know full well the wonderful job our power companies do for us all. And it could be said we take continuous, uninterrupted power for granted. But we also take the effect trees have on our landscapes and on our well being for granted. Just drive along a tree lined road, then a barren, treeless landscape and see the difference for yourself.
Trees are so important in ways we’re only beginning to understand. Let’s all work to give them their rightful place in our landscapes and lives.