My family thinks I am obsessed with trees. Perhaps that’s because I moved them into a home that has a 48-acre arboretum directly behind it. Maybe it’s because they constantly hear me offering little details about bark, or leaves or the branch system. Did you know, for example, that each branch operates independently yet for the common good of the whole – using its leaves to feed itself and then sending reserves to the root system to be used by the rest of the tree? Yes, I love trees.
When I was age 10, a neighbor had to have a tree removed, and I was just mesmerized. I knew from that moment that I’d spend a lifetime with trees. One of the things I love about trees is that they are kind of a freak of nature. They grow up, while gravity pushes everything else down.
By the time I was 15, I started doing ground work (dragging brush) and, since 1987, I’ve been climbing trees in one form or another. I’m fortunate to do it for work. Before joining PSE&G, I was a forester at another utility and also had done municipal trimming. Believe me when I say that I don’t like excessively trimming trees any more than you like seeing them trimmed unnecessarily.
As a company, we have a responsibility to deliver safe and reliable electricity. Unfortunately, trees get in the way when the wrong type of tree is in the wrong place. That’s why we hold sessions about four times each year to educate municipal workers and others about tree management. Fastidious, fast-growing species like Maples and London planes elongate quickly and constantly need trimming. It’s a necessary evil in order to keep the electricity on.
There is a way for trees and wires to coexist in a friendly manner. Selecting the right tree to plant in the right place minimizes and sometimes even eliminates pruning.
When we must prune, people often ask why we can’t just “flat top” a tree. We use arboricultural, correct practices. Flat topping doesn’t enable the tree to seal over the wound correctly and also contributes to sucker growth – or re-sprouting. When you take too much off, the tree wants to recover quickly so it sends out as many shoots as possible – recreating the original problem.
It may not look as pretty, but our directional pruning is actually safer for the tree – allowing it to continue to grow and flourish. It’s the placement of the tree in relation to the pole line that helps us determine how to trim the tree to minimize contact.
During storms, trees can become a hazard since a branch on a wire can cause fire damage to our facilities. Trees are a leading cause of power outages. Hence, we are required to perform maintenance on vegetation that is close enough to energized conductors at least once every four years. On the distribution side, we have about 14,236 miles, so we inspect roughly 3,500 miles per year.
On any given day, seven I.S.A. Certified Arborists (International Society of Arboriculture) inspect PSE&G’s distribution lines for vegetation issues. In addition, on average, there are about 230 people working all across the state to trim trees away from power lines. During the recent March storms, we had about 690 people working in round-the-clock shifts clearing the numerous downed trees and limbs that brought down power lines.
Here are a few more things homeowners should know about trees and power lines:
- We trim trees year-round and don’t like to surprise people, so we contact property owners directly or leave door hangers to let customers know we’re working.
- During emergencies, we can’t notify customers in advance of work. Often, the work leaves a lot of debris. Under these conditions, it is the tree owner’s or property owner’s responsibility to clear the debris. If in doubt, customers should check with their local municipality about ownership.
- Our vegetation team comprises tree experts who all are I.S.A. Certified/Utility Arborists, four are New Jersey Licensed Tree Experts, three are Tree Risk Assessment Qualified individuals as well as a Board Certified Master Arborist, Certified Tree Safety Professional and college educated team members.
- Our qualified professionals can work up to 2.7 feet away from high voltage power lines, using a 6-foot insulated stick-saw. Non-qualified workers need to stay a minimum of 10 feet away from power lines.
- If a branch is on an energized power line, it will not always arc, or emit sparks or fire. Every line should be treated as “hot” or carrying electricity. We check every call of a possible safety hazard, and we want you to call when there is a threat.
- When we need to use herbicides, such as to treat a stump to prevent regrowth, we only use those approved by appropriate federal and state agencies.
- Particularly in rural areas, we also clear brush or small trees that have the potential to grow into larger trees.
- You should contact your utility before planting any trees in or near a right of way.
- You can check the vegetation management schedule or learn more about tree trimming on the nj.pseg.com website.
Yes, I love trees. And I am proud to be a part of a company that works so that our trees and power lines can happily coexist.