Trees are part of Michigan’s natural splendor, providing summer shade and a golden glory in the fall. Trees are also a leading cause of electric outages. Left unattended, trees or branches that grow near electric lines can fall and cause outages. For us to continue providing safe and reliable electricity to you, we may need to trim or remove trees and vegetation on your property. Clearing trees now means having power later. That is why it is important we maintain an effective line-clearing plan and educate our neighbors about smart planting practices. We would also like to dispel some common forestry myths, starting with safety first:
Myth: Power lines are insulated.
Truth: Power lines are not insulated; if you touch one you will be severely injured or even killed. Always assume a power line is energized and dangerous.
To stay safe around trees and power lines:
- Do not cut down trees or branches near power lines. Leave that to our crews. If you must do so for the wire or equipment that is your responsibility, we recommend using a qualified contractor.
- Do not allow children to climb trees that are anywhere near overhead power lines.
- Stay clear of power lines when removing any object caught in a tree, such as a kite or balloon.
- Stay at least 10 feet away from power lines when using a ladder, long-handled tools and large equipment.
- If a tree branch or entire tree falls on an electric line, call 9-1-1 first, then immediately call us at 800-477-5050. Stay at least 25 feet away from it and anything it is touching, ensure no one – including pets – enters the area. Do not touch the branch, tree or wire.
Myth: There are not any electric lines overhead so anything can be planted in the area.
Truth: There may be unseen service equipment underground and distance matters!
By planting the right tree in the right place, you can help us reduce the number and duration of power outages. Responsible planting practices not only help ensure the long-term health of your trees, but also that your trees reach their full potential. Smart planting also ensures the future safety and reliability of electric service for you and your neighbors.
Do not assume underground lines are not at risk from damage.
Small or big, before you dig: Always contact MISS DIG 8-1-1 at least three working days prior to planting to have underground facilities marked. For resources on safe digging or to submit a request, visit missdig811.org or call 8-1-1.
Also before you dig, consult a local tree nursery before planting to determine the mature height and spread the tree may attain in your area. A good rule is to plant as many feet from the line as the expected height of the tree. It is also a good idea to check with your local municipality before planting on curb lawn.
It is equally important that you do not plant vines on or near electric poles or guy wires.
In partnership with the Michigan Forestry and Park Association, we provide municipalities grant funding to support planting the right tree in the right place. We recommend reviewing more planting and tree health tips to support your planting plans.
Myth: Trees near my electric service are never maintained.
Truth: Over half our lines are on an established tree trimming cycle, which vary between 5-10 years depending on voltage, and we are aiming to add all lines to these established schedules, but we may need your help:
Especially after storms, we appreciate customer reports of tree emergencies, such as when a tree branch or entire tree falls on an electric line causing pressure on a wire, a fire, wire to arc or spark or the wire can be touched by a vehicle or person. (Call 9-1-1 first, then immediately call us at 800-477-5050. Do not touch the branch, tree or wire.)
For broken tree limbs that are not an emergency, you can use the Report a Tree Hazard webform or call us at 800-477-5050. Non-emergent broken or fallen trees near service drops are the property owner’s responsibility, but still require a call to us to disconnect service – see the myth below!
We have increased investment in forestry by more than 60 percent since 2018. In 2022, we trimmed vegetation along more miles of lines than ever before, clearing tree branches from 7,100 miles of power lines (that is about twice the width of the United States!).
We may also find during an inspection that the electric wire currently has sufficient clearance. In this case, tree work would then be performed in the future according to our electric line routine maintenance program.
When we inspect an area, our forestry planner will mark the trees and vegetation that are in our right-of-way and on your property. This marking may happen well in advance of planned tree maintenance. If our planner determines that work is necessary on your property, your local planner will attempt to contact you in person, by phone or by mail. When work is going to be done on your property, a letter will be mailed to you between 2-12 weeks before tree crews begin work on a scheduled maintenance project. It takes anywhere from one to three months to complete each project, so it could be anywhere from 1-12 weeks before the tree crews arrive to do work on your property.
Myth: Trees and vegetation near all poles, wires, and equipment supplying electric service are the energy provider’s responsibility.
Truth: Some locations and equipment may be outside of our purview. For tree trimming and removal work within our scope, it is covered under your electricity rate to you at no additional cost.
Location: Trees outside of our right-of-way are the responsibility of the landowner. Since the late 1800s, we have been securing easements to install, maintain and expand overhead and underground electric lines on property not owned by us. Lines can also be installed in road rights-of-way. All our easements follow state laws and business standards. While easements vary, they are legally tied to the title of the land and allow our facilities to remain in place regardless of future ownership. Any tree growing within our easement, regardless of when it was planted, may eventually be trimmed or cut down to ensure reliable electric service. Following industry standards, arboriculture experts evaluate trees, their proximity to our lines and the health of the tree to determine what trimming or other action might be needed.
Yours versus Ours: Some of the equipment supplying electricity to your home may be yours to maintain. From the service drop to your home, we will trim branches that are broken and laying on the wire or during scheduled maintenance work, branches that are placing excessive pressure on the wire. We do not cut down trees along service lines to homes or trees that do not threaten the primary voltage lines. When the house electric service wire(s) are in or near the tree, please arrange for a private tree company to perform the work. You will need to call us (800-477-5050) in advance to schedule a temporary service disconnect (free of charge, Monday –Friday) so the private tree work may be completed.
Our Pole – Not Our Wires and Other Exceptions: We clear trees and brush around our electric wires. We do not clear trees for communication wires attached to our poles such as telephone, cable TV or fiber optic lines which are owned and maintained by other companies. The exception to this is that sometimes to obtain our minimum clearance requirements, we must also clear around communication wires. Please contact your cable, internet or phone company if you have concerns about trees or vegetation on their wires. We also do not trim trees for streetlight illumination or for streetlight sensors. This work is generally the responsibility of the municipality.
Myth: All clean-up of vegetation and tree debris after trimming and clearing is the energy provider’s responsibility.
Truth: It is the property owner’s responsibility for debris clean-up after service restoration, tree failure, or customer-generated calls for electric line workers.
We are required to leave the debris behind as the trees may be considered your valuable property or outside of our right-of-way.
When tree crews perform work planned by us on residential property, wood is cut into lengths for ease of handling and left on site for your use. We suggest you find someone that can make use of the wood left on your property. If you see wood that we have cut on someone else’s property, you must have permission from the property owner before removing wood from their premises.
Work planned by us will have brush and anything smaller than 4 inches in diameter chipped and removed from landscaped areas. In unmaintained areas, brush is either piled in windrows (which creates good habitat for wildlife and suppresses future tree growth) or is mulched and scattered within the easement right-of-way.
If tree work is planned in your area, you may contact the forester listed on your circuit letter or other communications you receive to request wood chips dumped at your property.
Stay safe when clean-up is needed: Especially if your power is out, do not immediately begin clean-up of a property after storm, electric lines could be hidden in debris.
Especially during and after storms, we may need to return to a location to complete forestry work, so that we can prioritize service restoration and keep everyone safe. Sometimes returning after a storm requires an outage so that our crews may complete the work safely and fully assess the area for other trees that may now be high risk. An outage during post-storm clean-up prevents longer, unexpected outages later.
Myth: Tree clearing distances are inconsistent.
Truth: We use different techniques to manage vegetation along power lines compared to natural gas pipelines. The amount of clearance needed from the power lines varies based on the voltage of the line and species of trees.
Existing trees and vegetation must meet our tree and vegetation clearing standards, which are in line with the industry regulations and safety standards, company best practices and follow Michigan Public Service Commission requirements.
Our expert Tree Management Team follows the established forestry guidelines to ensure that trees do not interrupt your service, using qualified line-clearance contractors to safely clear trees and vegetation that could interfere with our powerlines.
We make a sincere effort to minimize the impact to trees and shrubs in the communities we serve. When trimming is necessary, our goals are to achieve adequate clearance and direct future growth away from electric lines, while adhering to arboriculture standards to help with tree healing.
When trimming trees and managing vegetation, the parts of the electric grid that operate at higher voltages require greater clearing widths to ensure reliability. There are also varying zones in measured distances from the equipment that have different clearing requirements. Some zones may not be able to have any trees, while other areas can have trees of a specific size.
Many factors influence the decision to trim or cut trees, such as species, location, and health of the tree. A tree may be removed because it is under or too close to a line, dead, dying, diseased, damaged, at risk of falling or will not survive the required clearance trimming. Sometimes trees within the utility right-of-way easement, or growing close to it, will need to be removed to ensure safe and reliable service.
Myth: Herbicides are not necessary to use.
Truth: We use herbicides to prevent stumps from hardwood trees that are cut down from sprouting new stems. We also use herbicides to control woody brush, including several invasive species, along easement rights-of-way using selective application methods.
If a selective application is planned for your property, the contract application company will attempt to notify you in person or by mail prior to the treatment. These treatments decrease the amount of manual work required for our tree crews in the future, promote compatible species including pollinator species, and provide accessible easement rights-of-way for our line crews to maintain or repair our lines.
Myth: I have to be home when the crew comes to clear the vegetation and trees.
Truth: You do not have to be home when our crews perform work.
When work is performed on your property or in some cases, immediately adjacent, the work will be arranged with you prior to tree maintenance work. Also prior to the tree maintenance work, you will have the opportunity to communicate any extra precautions needed for navigating near or on your property, such as the location of septic tanks or accessing the work area through fences and gates. You are not required to be home while the tree maintenance work is being performed.
Myth: All power lines can be buried.
Truth: Unfortunately, it will never be feasible to put all wires below ground.
Where it is possible to bury overhead lines underground, lines are protected from needing as many repairs, including recurring damage from weather (damaged trees), wildlife and humans. Undergrounding power lines has become increasingly cost-effective, leading to lower annual maintenance costs and reduced tree trimming expenses. This reduced tree trimming with fewer overhead lines and poles is often regarded as more attractive. Undergrounding also makes room for more or larger trees. The aesthetic improvement and increased reliability in service could even lead to increased property values and the attraction of new businesses or homeowners to an area. With all that in mind, we look forward to continuing our new undergrounding program.
Myth: There is not any additional information to learn about Consumers Energy’s forestry work.
Truth: There is so much more information available about our electric line maintenance program, examples of tree trimming, descriptions of vegetation management methods, minimum power line clearances and more at ConsumersEnergy.com/Forestry