Some Background Information

In response to the recent surge in nearby hurricanes (Hermine, Irma, and Michael), the city initiated a program of enhanced tree trimming above power lines.  The plan is to extend the tree branch and limb clearance height from the current standard of six feet to 10-12 feet over two trim cycles 18 months apart.  The thinking is that by increasing the clearance there will be fewer power outages not just during significant storm events, but also from the minor events that zap the power.

What minor events you ask?  Well, there’s a few different kinds.  First and most common, a branch may brush a power line and momentarily kill the power.  Another example is a squirrel getting to where it shouldn’t be and, sorry there’s no kind way to say this, getting fried and shorting out the circuit.  You know these events by the fact that the power goes off, but comes back on momentarily. 

Another type of minor event is when a limb falls on the wire(s) and stays there, causing a short.  There’s also situations in which a leaning tree or limb finally leans far enough onto a power line to cause a short.  In these instances, your power may go on and off a few times in short order . . . and then goes out for good.  The city then sends a crew out to clear the line to restore power.

Then, of course, there’s not the minor events but the big kahuna . . . the major storm or hurricane that not only causes branches to brush lines and limbs to drop across lines, but nearby trees to fall through the lines and/or knock down poles.  (The enhanced trimming will not address falling trees in most instances; but, if there’s a damaged or significantly leaning tree near a line, the city may work with the homeowner to remove it.)

Some General Considerations

The enhanced trimming will not affect the power line (i.e., service line) that runs from the power pole to your house.  The homeowner is responsible for maintaining that line.

Will we have more hurricanes that affect us this year?  No one knows.  Three in the last three years is extraordinary, to say the least.

In general, it cost significantly less to buy a generator that can power your refrigerator, freezer, and some basic lights and fans than it does to have a tree taken down.

Personal Observations

I’m not convinced of the value of this program.  Here’s the problem for me.  The city’s data-gathering for tree-related outages combines into one count the number of trees falling through a line as well as the number of limbs brushing or falling on a line.  Our utility people say that based on limited pilot studies here and industry standards there’s a 50% reduction in tree-related power outages with the enhanced trimming.  I have a lot of trees by the street, as do many of my neighbors on our power circuit.  I like their look and the shade they provide.  Do I have some power outages?  Yes, though the tree-related ones haven’t been from my trees and tend to be rather short, rarely over an hour.  Those don’t bother me much, not enough to trim “my” street trees back. 

Most of my inconvenience comes with major storms and that’s when the main problem by far is falling trees somewhere in the neighborhood rather than branches brushing or landing on our lines.  I would have preferred that the city spend our money on having independent arborists assess the health of trees within the fall zone of power lines or even setting up a generator lending library more than the enhanced tree trimming.

Homeowner’s Guide for Tree Trimming Decisions

The higher the number, the more homes are served by those wires.  The city’s service priorities go from three, to two, to one.  Meaning, the lower the number of wires, in general, the more willing the city will be to work with you to adjust the trimming.