Utility Line Clearing and Tree Trimming
Planting trees and bushes can save energy by shading homes in summer or blocking harsh winter winds. Trees and other plants in the utility right-of-way can slow crews working to resolve a power outage. And tree branches conduct electricity when touching power lines.
Ohio law requires utilities to maintain the safety of their lines. This can include cutting back (trimming) branches and limbs or even entire trees in a right-of-way that have the potential to damage lines and interrupt service—even on a consumer’s property. Each electric company develops and submits a vegetation management plan to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) describing how it intends to clear and maintain its right-of-way.
The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel provides answers in this fact sheet to frequently asked questions about the line clearing and tree trimming practices of Ohio’s electric utilities.
Can a utility representative enter my property?
Yes, utility representatives (or their contractors) may inspect or trim any vegetation to maintain the reliability of the power system and prevent outages. This includes entering private property. Utilities have this right through a legal “easement,” which is permission to have and maintain its lines on the customer’s property. Easements transfer with the property deed.
Who does the tree trimming and line clearing?
Ohio electric companies may have on staff crews or contract with professional firms.
Are there standards to protect trees?
Electric companies use modern techniques specified by standards developed by the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) and the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) using Certified Arborists to plan and perform the work safely and minimize the need for future trimming. Crews attempt to cut trees in ways that reduce stress and lessen the likelihood of disease and decay.
Are there guidelines for how much trimming will be done?
Depending on the line voltage and type of tree, the work usually involves removing branches to allow several feet of clearance around a power line for 3-5 years. For service lines from the poles to buildings, usually only branches that are growing on or through insulated, lower voltage wires are removed.
How will I know if work is planned for my property?
Advanced notice is not required. However, utilities often notify customers prior to scheduled activity. Notices are typically mailed or hung on the door and include a phone number to call with questions. Notice can be several weeks ahead or sometimes only days. Advanced notice is extremely rare for emergency situations, such as to restore service after a storm.
Trees are considered a homeowner’s property so consumers may have to make arrangements for debris removal at their own expense.
What if I have concerns about tree trimming to be performed?
Customers should call their electric utility prior to the trimming or line clearing to get information about the work to be done and express any concerns. If the customer is not satisfied with the information, they should contact the PUCO at 1-800-686-7826.
How can I prepare for tree trimming?
Most electric companies have representatives to answer your questions, so call or schedule an appointment as soon as you are notified of the work. It is too late to wait until the crew is in your yard. Ask for a written description of what to expect. You may also want to take pictures of trees near wires before the work starts.
How do I avoid having the utility trim my trees?
You can trim your own trees and bushes each year to keep them from growing into power lines. This should be done carefully to avoid personal injury or damage to the utility lines. Check with your utility for their requirements for the distance between power lines and branches. Some utilities will remove trees upon request that require repeated trimming to clear lines. Ask your electric company when you are notified about routine line clearing work.
Always plant the right trees and away from utility lines. Consult with an ISA Certified Arborist to find trees that suit your soil type, space, and other property constraints. To locate an arborist, visit www.treesaregood.org. Learn more about planting trees near utility lines below.
Safety Is Important!
- Never approach a fallen tree that may be in contact with an electric line. Immediately contact your utility company.
- Do not climb trees growing near electric lines.
- Always contact the Ohio Utilities Protection Service (OUPS) at 8-1-1 or 1-800-362-2764 at least 48 hours before any digging project to locate all underground utilities. This law is in place to help prevent outages and injury when digging holes for planting or any project around your property. Learn more at https://oups.org/.
- AEP Ohio
- AES Ohio (formerly Dayton Power and Light)
- Duke Energy Ohio
- The Illuminating Company
- Ohio Edison
- Toledo Edison
To file a complaint about utility-related tree trimming or line clearing, contact the PUCO at 1-800-686-7826.
What to Know About Tree Planting
Before selecting a tree, evaluate the site where you want to plant. Is there an electric line nearby? If so, it’s important that trees will not interfere or require maintenance for the wires.
Consider what that tree might look like in 10 or even 20 years. Certain types of trees should never be planted under or near overhead, primary electric lines. Species like oak, many maples, spruce, and pine should be planted at 40-50 feet from primary electric lines (see diagram from the Arbor Day Foundation.) Medium-sized species may be planted 30-40 feet from the lines. Small trees and shrubs that grow to only 20-25 feet tall are just fine under electric lines if you stay at least 15 feet from the poles.
As for the wires on large poles and towers called transmission lines, no trees that can grow into or fall onto these high voltage wires should be planted within the safety or fall zone of the right-of-way. Sometimes this can be 80-150 feet on each side of the lines. As a result, electric utilities often have the right to remove any woody vegetation that will interfere with the wires now or in the future.
Service crews must always have access to the lines, so if there is a lane or vegetation-free zone in a transmission right-of-way, avoid planting anything that may keep a vehicle or person from entering for inspection, safety, and maintenance.
What about the service line from the pole to your home and/or buildings? Small trees and shrubs are okay planted under them. Provide 5 feet or so on each side of the service line to plant medium and large trees. You may want to call your utility for advice on selecting trees that are appropriate for under and near electric lines.
Buried utilities including electric, gas, sewer taps, and water taps are also a concern. Tree roots hold trees up, so if an underground utility line needs repaired or replaced, cutting roots for the repair may put your tree at risk of tree falling over. Avoid planting small-growing trees within 10 feet of an underground utility and larger growing trees within 20 feet. Trees and other vegetation should not be planted within 10 feet of any utility service equipment, including access boxes for buried power lines.
Tree Selection and Care Resources
- ISA’s Consumer tree care site: https://www.treesaregood.org/
- Tree Selection for the “Un-natural” Environment – includes a utility-friendly tree list: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/FNR/FNR-531-W.pdf
- Ohio Urban Forestry Toolbox: https://tinyurl.com/ohiouftoolbox
- Ohio’s Endorsed Tree Planting Specifications: https://tinyurl.com/ohtreeplantright
- Common Trees of Ohio: https://tinyurl.com/ohforestrytrees
- US Forest Service How to Prune Trees: https://tinyurl.com/usfsprune
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