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Planting The Right Tree In The Right Place

Many people plant trees during the spring, around National Arbor Day.

There are many environmental and beautification benefits to planting young trees. However, Safe Electricity wants to remind everyone to be aware of electrical hazards while planting this year. Always seek help from professionals when choosing and placing trees and bushes.

Trees that grow too close to electric lines can create shock and fire hazards as well as power outages. More importantly, children can become victims of electric shock when they climb trees that have grown too close to the power lines as well. Trees growing into power lines can also create electrical hazards for people who might be trimming branches, hanging lights or otherwise working around them.

“Trees provide many aesthetic, environmental and economic benefits” said Safe Electricity Executive Director Erin Hollinshead. “But everyone needs to be aware of the dangers and risks created when trees grow into power lines, and the importance of calling the utility or utility locator service before beginning any landscaping project.”

Take the time to research tree selections by consulting your local arborist, tree nursery or utility. These experts can provide assistance in designing a beautiful, shade-filled yard with trees appropriate for each area of the landscape. With their help, trees can provide economical cooling in the summer, and a wind-break for harsh winter winds.

In addition, trees help combat the effects of pollution by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2). When trees grow, they take energy from the sun and combine it with CO2 from the air to photosynthesize. This makes trees a natural “carbon sink” or, a living source of carbon reduction. Some trees are better suited for this task than others and, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), tree species that grow quickly and live long are ideal carbon sinks.

Choosing the right tree for the right place is crucial, especially when it comes to power lines. Trees and wood in general can potentially conduct electricity and can create a safety hazard if grown close to electric lines. Power outages or momentary interruptions can occur when branches come into contact with overhead lines. Electrical arcing and sparking from a wire to a nearby branch can also cause fires.

“Keep in mind expected height when you purchase trees to plant this year,” Hollinshead said. “Just because a tree is far from the power line right now, doesn’t mean it always will be.”

If you have trees that appear to be growing into power lines, contact your electric utility. Never try to prune them yourself. Utilities have or can recommend skilled professionals trained to safely prune and trim trees for electric line clearance.

To avoid future electrical hazards, safe planting tips to remember include:

  • Consider mature height of trees. Never plant a tree near a power line that could grow within 25 feet of it. Tall growing trees should be planted a minimum of 20 feet away from power lines, and 50 feet away to avoid future pruning. A mature height of less than 15 feet is recommended for trees planted near power lines.
  • Do not plant near underground utility services. Tree roots can grow to interfere with underground pipes, cables and wires. Future repairs to these facilities also could damage the health and beauty of nearby plants and trees, or even require removal.
  • Keep areas around electric meters, transformers or other electrical equipment free of any vegetation that could limit utility service access.
  • Before digging, call the local underground utility locator service to mark the location of underground utilities so that accidental contact, damage and injuries can be avoided.

“There are many beautiful varieties of low-growing trees and shrubs that provide color, screening and shade, and enhance the quality of life in our communities and environment,” said Hollinshead. “Consider the types of trees that co-exist well with power lines and the environment to avoid the need for trimming for line clearance.”

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