Clearance Around Power Lines

Who is Responsible for Trimming Trees Near Power Lines?

The National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) requires electric utilities, in most states, to maintain trees around power lines. 

The code, published by IEEE and updated every five years, seeks to keep both utility workers and the public safe. It sets requirements regarding the installation, operation, and maintenance of electric supply, communication lines and associated equipment.

In order to comply with this code, and to prolong the life of your valuable equipment, you need to contract with a reliable partner for tree trimming and line clearance.

Why Tree Maintenance is Critically Important

Safety issues arise when trees either grow too close to power lines or are in danger of toppling or breakage due to poor health or previous damage. The trees can contact the power lines when their weight becomes too much or in cases of high wind and rain. Trees contacting power lines can pose several potential threats, primarily power outages, injuries and fire.

Power Outages

Trees are the number one cause of power outages. Outages cost your customers, especially businesses, a significant amount of money, and may put their safety at risk.

A tree limb coming into contact with a power line can cause a short circuit, which leads to a momentary outage that may or may not clear on its own. In more severe cases, a limb or entire tree can break the power line, causing a widespread outage.

Damage to power lines by trees or tree limbs can threaten the safety of your employees as well as the public. Line damage could result in injury or death due to electric shock or electrocution. Downed power lines can catch people off-guard when they’re moving around their own yards, neighborhoods or parking lots. 

When your employees need to access lines or transformers, they need sufficient space. Proper tree maintenance near power lines allows them to do so.


When an energized line falls to the ground, a fuse or circuit breaker should cut power to it, but this is not always the case. In areas with a lot of dry brush, such as in drought conditions, a fire can spread quickly, threatening structures, people, wildlife, and your company’s public image.

In addition, electricity can arc from the power line to nearby trees under the right conditions. This electric current can kill anyone caught near the tree and can cause a fire. 

Equipment Damage

Tree limbs can snap off during storms or high winds, or simply under their own weight. They can damage utility poles, electrical lines, transformers or other equipment. 

Preventative Maintenance

State laws require specific clearances between trees and power lines, and these can be adjusted in certain circumstances, such as when the threat of wildfires is elevated. 

Certified arborists can assess trees before they infringe on the required clearance, estimating how quickly and in what direction a tree will grow. They can also spot evidence of rot or disease that would elevate the risk of breakage or a tree falling. 

It is more cost efficient and easier for everyone involved if you can prevent a serious issue before it occurs. By putting a maintenance plan in place, a utility company can stay ahead of many potential problems.

Cost of Utility Clearance

Tree trimming by electric utilities became mandatory in the early 2000s. 
Failure to maintain trees around utility lines can incur sanctions and fines up to $1 million dollars per day 

In addition to fines, tree damage can cost electric companies in other ways: equipment replacement, overtime pay to line workers, loss of public trust, and marketing campaigns to combat negative attention.

By planning ahead and conducting tree trimming around power lines on a regular basis, utility companies can stay compliant and save themselves a lot of time and money.