Wednesday, September 10, 2008


NimbyThis morning, NPR's Morning Edition ran an energy NIMBY story with a twist: An "In My Back Yard" piece titled, "City Dweller Laments Loss Of Urban Trees," detailing the difficulties power companies can face in dealing with urban homeowners.

Utility people say they can't win. If they trim too aggressively, residents, like me, complain that they are destroying the canopy in an old neighborhood. But if untrimmed trees take out power lines during a storm, those same residents jump on the phone and demand that the utility turn the juice back on right away. Earl Eutsler is a District of Columbia arborist. He says there's only one way to solve the conflict between trees and power lines.

"Planting the proper tree in this space. For example, the amur maple we installed in front of your house," he explains.

"Proper tree, proper place" is the motto for the city's plan to replace tall trees under power lines with species that are more, shall we say, cooperative.

Eutsler takes me for a drive in his natural gas-powered car to show me what this might look like. He points to a series of purple leaf plum trees, planted in the "tree box," or curbside plot along the street, where stately elms used to stand. The new trees are "starting to establish themselves," Eutsler says. "These here that are already 15 feet are going to get another 10 feet tall, and that's really it," he says.

"But they're not really providing shade," I counter, staring at a perfectly respectable stand of trees that will never soar or form a graceful allee, "Not in the sense you can go out and sit with your neighbors under a tree like that."

"No, you're right," says Eutsler. "But it's more manageable, it's less dangerous."

City foresters encourage residents who want tall trees to plant them closer to homes, but away from the power lines. Despite my love for big trees, I'm not too crazy about having them right next to the house.


jonathan said...

I'd love to have seen the look on the face of the Pepco guy when the reported made his comment about the allee.

Matthew66 said...

Actually, there are other alternatives. In Canberra, where I grew up, from the 1950's to the 1980's the utility put all the poles and their wires in the backyards, so no street trees were ever affected by power lines. People in Canberra are less inclined to have large trees in their backyards, probably because all backyards are fenced. From the 1980's on, all utility services have been placed underground, in PVC pipes (which tree roots avoid) so there is no adverse interraction between trees and utility services.

Canberra has some of the most attractive streetscapes of any post-war urban/suburban environment I have visited, although that is of course in the eye of the beholder.

Norske-Division said...

Here in St.Louis Missouri they are working on putting the power lines underground. Even with aggressive tree trimming we often get power outages. I think it's a worthwhile investment to get both better reliability and not have to damage the tree canopy.

Anonymous said...

Yes, put the power lines underground. That's the solution. Underground power is required by most building codes for new subdivisions, and it's much better if one has storms or earthquakes.

Arvid said...

Why don't you have the power lines underground in the US? I remember when I visited California and thought the power wires all over the place made it look like a third world country.

Anonymous said...

Power lines underground have a tendancy to flood in some areas and are much costlier to repair if they are damaged due to water or earthquake.