Keeping Nature at a Safe Distance

From jacarandas to queen palms to crape myrtles, trees grace our communities, providing us with shade, clean air and beauty. As you walk down streets in your neighborhood, on occasion you may notice trees growing near power lines, and you may wonder who prunes them so branches don’t come in contact with wires.

SDG&E takes care of more than 460,000 trees that are close to our infrastructure to prevent them from touching power lines that can spark power outages or fires. Keeping nature at a safe distance helps to ensure reliable energy and keeps you safe.

Approximately 40 certified arborists and 80 tree pruning crews work year-round to make sure that trees and vegetation are cut back to provide a 10-foot clearance from distribution lines. In fire-prone locations, we establish a clearance of 15 feet or greater based on tree growth rates. The vegetation clearance standards that SDG&E has in place are much greater than the minimum clearances set by state regulatory agencies.

Annually, SDG&E contractors prune an average of 240,000 trees, and remove about 12,000 incompatible or diseased trees. Where it’s possible, trees are replaced.  Pruning may occur more frequently if a tree grows fast, or if it’s in poor health due to drought or other environmental conditions. In addition, crews regularly clear brush to reduce the fuel that a fire could consume.

Over the past decade, significant resources have been invested to enhance our vegetation management program. Today, it’s recognized as an industry model.

Reducing Tree-Related Outages by Setting a Higher Standards

Leveraging the latest technology, we developed a work management application known as PowerWorkz to systematically track the maintenance schedule of trees and their conditions. Mobile data tablets loaded with PowerWorkz allow our highly trained workforce to manage hundreds of thousands of trees near our infrastructure, and closely monitor another half a million trees outside our right-of-way.

The result has been dramatic. In the early 1990s, prior to the implementation of the program, our customers experienced several hundred vegetation-related power outages a year. Today, this type of outage is down to a few dozen a year.

“Every tree in the inventory has a unique tree ID. Each year, SDG&E inspects every tree in the inventory and updates specific data such as customer information, clearances, and property information,” said Don Akau, a certified arborist and SDG&E’s vegetation and pole integrity manager.

Working with customers to put the “Right Tree in the Right Place”

A key element of our vegetation management program is public education – our crews explain to property owners the importance of greater clearances to protect their homes against wildfires. “The Right Tree in the Right Place” program helps property owners evaluate what trees to plant based on a host of factors such as the root damage potential and powerline compatibility.

To find out more about being prepared before a wildfire, visit sdge.com/safety