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Landscaping Considerations for Safety and Power Reliability

Nothing makes a person itch to get out and get the yard whipped into shape more than nice weather. That and the neighbors having splashier yards and landscaping. Before you dash off to the local nursery and stock up on shrubs and trees, take some time to make a landscaping plan that takes into account where power lines and other utilities are located, both overhead and underground.
If your neighborhood is served by underground utilities, you need to call for a mark out. This is a free service that notifies all participating utilities that they need to come out and mark the path of their lines and pipes on the ground using spray paint. It takes a couple of days but is worth it. Besides if you dig into and damage underground utilities you may be responsible for their repair. And if you dig into your co-op’s lines…well, it can be deadly. And the number is a piece of cake to remember, 811.811

Now that you know where everything is located, it’s time to design your planting scheme to be sure they don’t grow into the utilities in the future. Even small shrubs and trees can grow to the point where their roots start to contact underground utilities. Over time they can damage pipes and wires, leading to problems and poor power reliability. If work needs to be done to find and repair the problem, your beautifully landscaped masterpiece is going to go under the shovel.

When it comes to overhead services, trees can be a reliability and safety nightmare. A tree intertwined with your co-op’s power lines presents a number of issues. As branches contact the wires due to wind and breezes, you and others can be subjected to blinks. This is a real nuisance when you need to reset clocks or when your thesis on landscape design is lost due to a blink shutting down your PC.

If the tree or any of its limbs come down on the power lines due to storm winds, old age, or ice, you are looking at a possible outage. The contact may activate protective devices (blow fuses or open reclosers) or pull the wires down altogether. Outages are really a bother but wires down can be dangerous if they remain energized for some reason. Remember, assume any wire on the ground is energized and stay well clear. Call it in to your co-op if you haven’t already.

The solution is to plant well clear of the overhead power lines. All utilities have right of ways (ROW) they maintain. Having them free of anything that grows other than grass is a prime contributor to reliability. Without trees or shrubs, none of the problems mentioned above can occur. And it allows them to restore service faster because there is no impediment to their equipment getting to the damage. In addition, crews do not need to come in and prune the trees away from the lines. This reduces operating costs, helps keep your rates low, and avoids a member becoming the proud owner of an oddly shaped tree.

The following graphic is provided as an illustration of a typical plant-free zone. If you are uncertain of the clearances, contact your co-op for specifics as theirs’s may differ.

Root Damage Zone

Remember, plan your landscaping for safety and reliability. Use the free 811 service and follow the ROW guidelines of your cooperative.

You can also plant with energy efficiency / conservation in mind. Be sure to read the article on this topic elsewhere in this issue.

Online resources:

https://www.arborday.org/programs/treelineusa/rtrp.pdf
http://www.treesvirginia.org/education/utility-friendly-trees
http://selectree.calpoly.edu/right-tree-right-place/utility-precautions