Tree trimmers work to give power lines some clearance

Utilities are sending hundreds of tree trimmers up cherry pickers. While removing branches near power lines works temporarily, failing infrastructure’s the bigger concern

Tree trimmers up cherry pickers

Homeowners who are still dealing with the aftermath of mid-March’s widespread power outage are beginning to see sights of relief. That’s because DTE Energy has deployed tree trimmers en masse— about 800 — throughout Metro Detroit, clearing the way so that power lines can do their jobs.

The halfway point in the spring season is an ideal time for tree trimmers. They are able to better maneuver around branches and discern the ones that haven’t yet fully grown their leaves, thus shrouding power lines. Once tree branches grow too close to a power line, that line can get knocked over when a storm hits. Trimming reduces the risks inherent in the deadly combination of exposed electrical lines and Michigan’s extreme weather conditions.

As an electrocution attorney, I’m heartened when I see more contractor trucks with cherry pickers up in the air. I’ve litigated too many lawsuits where workers and innocent people were electrocuted in these circumstances.  It means utility companies are inspecting their power lines — as they are required to under the law: they are required by the National Electric Safety Code to trim trees and branches in proximity to power lines and in anticipation of forecasted growth in cycles.

Too many skip these inspections entirely.

DTE head: Tree trimmers are easiest solution

The heads of utility companies recognize this more than ever — among them, Trevor Lauer, CEO of DTE’s electric division. He recently told attendees at the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council’s annual meeting that a world reliant on all things tech — from electric cars to online businesses, and from the general way of living to homeland security matters — also depends on uninterrupted electricity.

Lauer added that falling trees and limbs account for two-thirds of the time DTE customers suffer without power. On March 8, the day when a wild wind storm had gusts peaking at 69 mph, the landscape was strewn with uprooted trees and branches, knocking out power to 852,000 customers.

“The vast majority of outages in that storm were caused by trees outside of our right of way,” Lauer said, according to a Detroit Free Press article.

The easiest solution, he added, is for utilities to slice wider passages through trees. That’s just what DTE says it’s doing, having its trimming go out for 15 feet instead of 10 from the center line of poles and wires. Also, more full trees overall are being cut down.

But tree trimmers can’t fix aging, dangerous electricity infrastructure

While some would argue that a more sound idea would be underground power, which some communities in Michigan have, Lauer shot down that idea:

As for burying wires, although standard for new construction, it’s unthinkable for Michigan’s network of existing poles and elevated power lines, Lauer said. … “It would never make sense to take a system of our size and underground it. The customers could never afford it.”

Yet, what customers really can’t afford is living with a weakened, if not overall failing, infrastructure.

True, tree trimmers can make the wires safe from the weight of trees and foliage, as well as preventing tree limbs from growing too close to electrical lines and causing them to fall.

But aging and deteriorating insulators, insulator ties, crossarms and poles, weakened by insects, decay rot and adverse weather, pose a massive hazard unto themselves, and are prone to failure during windy, stormy and icy conditions. The best defense against power lines falling from the poletops, where they belong, is a responsible inspection and maintenance program that includes repair and/or replacement of infrastructure components.

Also, please give the tree trimmers the space they need on the main roads and residential streets, in back yards and around buildings.

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