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News / Life / Clark County Life

Energy Adviser: Trimming trees for their health, your safety

By Clark Public Utilities
Published: August 26, 2023, 6:00am

Trees bring tremendous value to the people and ecosystems of Southwest Washington. But, an overgrown tree can be a looming problem for electric system reliability.

Clark Public Utilities invests in year-round vegetation management to balance system reliability and the preservation of both the health and aesthetics of the tree canopy in our service area.

The utility and a team of specialized contractors monitor the vegetation growing around more than 1,500 miles of utility lines and close to 60 substations around the county to ensure trees are kept a safe distance from critical infrastructure.

From helicopter and drone inspections to visual observations, the utility employs many tools to keep an eye on encroaching vegetation. However, customer reports will always be among the most important tools for preventing tree-related outages.

“Trees or branches create the most damage on our system, especially during storms,” said Clark Public Utilities Forestry Maintenance Manager Paul Wienecke. “That’s why customer tree-trimming requests are so helpful — they tell us about potentially hazardous trees before they become a problem down the road.”

Customers who are concerned that a tree could affect power lines should call the utility’s customer service line at 360-992-3000. The representative will ask a series of questions and assign the request to be addressed by a tree trimmer if needed. Customers can also report the problem tree at ClarkPublicUtilities.com by searching for “request a tree trimming.” It only takes a few minutes to complete the form. A utility employee may follow up with you if more information is needed.

Customer tree reports are taken seriously. When a request comes in, a utility employee will respond within seven business days to perform an assessment. If the tree presents a danger to primary power lines, it’ll be trimmed free of charge.

The utility takes a proactive but ecologically conscious approach to its vegetation management program. In fact, Clark Public Utilities’ Vegetation Management Program has earned the prestigious Tree Line USA Utility Award from the Arbor Day Foundation every year for the past 23 years.

The arborists Clark Public Utilities contracts with undergo extensive training to become “Line Clearance Qualified” to trim around high-voltage lines where precision cuts are critical. Each arborist undergoes more than 40 hours of annual training on safety and proper pruning techniques to maximize safety for themselves, the public and the health of the tree.

These skilled trimmers balance safe line clearances with correct arboricultural pruning. In the end, the tree is a safe distance away from overhead power lines and preserved to continue growing strong.

Due to Clark Public Utilities’ commitment to public safety and correct pruning techniques, our customers experience fewer and significantly shorter outages than many other utilities in our region and across the country.

The best way to prevent trees from growing dangerously close to power lines is by planting the right types of trees in the right places. A good rule of thumb is to plant a tree the same distance away from the lines as its mature height. In other words, if it’ll grow to 25 feet tall, then it should be planted at least 25 feet from the overhead lines and never directly under power lines.

A plant nursery professional can suggest power-line-friendly varieties of trees and more information is available at ClarkPublicUtilities.com.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.