Tree Trimming Aids Safety, Efficiency

Save Trouble Later; Don’t Plant Tall Trees Below Lines

UD power lines
A tree trimmer clears limbs from PUD power lines.

Rural tree trimming has been in full swing this spring as work crews hustle to get the job done in Cherry Heights, Mill Creek, Browns Creek, and Rowena before fire season hits full swing.

“Chainsaws and dry grass don’t mix well,” says Dave Taphouse, Northern Wasco County PUD’s arborist.

Dave was on the PUD’s tree-trimming crew for 15 years. Now, as the PUD’s arborist, he develops the work plan for Trees, Inc., the contractor that now does the work.

When trees meet with power lines, they can produce loss and the potential for danger.

When a tree grows up past the neutral line and touches the primary that has energy flowing through it, the tree can absorb the energy, causing energy loss. Plus, on a wet day, which can mean rain or moisture inside the limbs, there is potential of shock.

Northern Wasco County PUD maintains a tree trimming program to assure the reliability, efficiency, and safety of its transmission and primary distribution systems.

“The PUD doesn’t own any trees, except the trees in our parking lot,” says Steve Horzynek, Asset/Program Manager & Engineering Team Lead. “But we have documented easements and also prescriptive rights and easements to maintain our lines.”

For safety’s sake, the limbs of trees in primary power lines can’t be lower than eight feet. That limits the ability of children and others to climb up. The same risk exists out in the orchards, where migrant workers and their families may be housed on-site. Allowing trees to grow into the power lines is also bad for the trees, says Horzynek, showing a photo of a tree with a misshapen crown.

“The wind blows it into the lines and curves the tops of the trees,” he says. “It keeps growth from happening and dries out the trees.”

While the tree trimmers maintain clearances around the PUD’s lines, it’s the homeowners’ responsibility to manage the growth of their trees—to a point.

Once a tree grows to within 10 feet of the lines or closer, even most tree-trimming companies aren’t qualified to work on it. Tree trimmers contracted by the PUD receive annual training on line voltages and their vehicles require annual testing to ensure they provide required protection.

“We do try to contact the customer now before we do any cutting,” adds Dave. If the tree trimming isn’t an emergency, crews will leave a door hanger if they can’t reach the customer.

The best way to avoid conflicts between trees and power lines is to plan for them not to happen in the first place.

“We always say, ‘Look up,’” Steve says.

Later maintenance problems can be avoided by either not planting trees under the lines, or choosing smaller species of trees.

“We’ve got some fliers that describe a whole series of trees that only reach 20 to 25 feet in height,” Steve says.

The OSU Wasco County Extension Service and Wasco County Master Gardeners Association can also provide information.

“The main thing is the reliability of our system. That’s what we really focus on. We try not to get into the situations you see in the Willamette Valley or on the coast.”

While the PUD’s district is fortunate in often having milder storms than the districts on the west side of the state, tree management and system diversity also play key roles.

The PUD tries to work with its customers on tree management issues, but to be effective in maintaining system efficiency and reliability, it can’t always please the individual customer.

“But sometimes we can compromise on certain things if our impact isn’t going to be that great or if the circum- stances allow it,” Steve says.

Mylar Balloons Can Cause Power Line Damage and Danger

Balloons can play a big role in graduation ceremonies, Father’s Day, Independence Day, and other outdoor celebrations.

But when mylar balloons mix with power lines, the result can be damaged lines or injured linemen.

“Mylar is semi-metallic and it conducts electricity,” says Steve Horzynek of Northern Wasco County PUD. “A lot of times, people like to release a bunch of balloons, or even single ones and they can tangle with the power lines.” When they are short across two lines, it can lead to outages and line damage. They can also be hazardous for linemen to remove.

Rubber balloons don’t have the same effect, but if you do choose mylar, Steve urges you to keep them in hand and don’t let them loose to cause problems.