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Tree clearing questions answered

For much of the summer, Hastings residents watched as crews of workers in white and green trucks trimmed trees throughout the community.

Many asked what was happening.

The answer? The crews from Wright Tree Service were out on assignment from Xcel Energy to get tree branches away from power lines.

The work is part of Xcel’s vegetation management plan.

The plan aims to reduce the number of outages that customers experience, Xcel says. By keeping tree branches away from power lines, Xcel says that outages decrease in frequency.

“Trees growing near power lines can be a safety hazard and are a major contributor of electric service interruptions nationwide,” according to information provided by Xcel after being contacted by the Star Gazette. “That’s why Xcel Energy prunes trees near power lines. Tree pruning is the selective removal of branches that are not an adequate distance from power lines, or that will grow too close to the power line before the next maintenance cycle. Our goal is to provide safe, reliable electric service, while also taking the best possible care of one of our community’s valuable natural resources.”

The process, though, isn’t always met with approval from homeowners.

“Wright Tree Service is destroying some of the trees in town,” one person wrote to the Star Gazette. “Is there anyway they could do their job but still leave the trees looking decent? They’re on my block this morning, and I’m scared to see the results.”

Many times, trees are left looking, well, bizarre. They’ll be fully grown and rounded out on one side and trimmed straight up on the other.

Xcel says that “the vegetation management work that Xcel Energy and its contractors perform is limited to the portions of a tree that can affect the power lines. Topping or rounding over a whole tree has proven to be unhealthy for the tree.”

Xcel concedes that “even proper pruning techniques may leave trees with an unnatural appearance,” and they said that “in some cases, it may be better to remove the tree and start over with a more compatible tree.”

Making the process especially contentious in some cases is the fact that the crews are trimming trees that are on private property. Xcel’s website explains its rights this way:

“Tariffs and agreements with various state regulatory entities give utility companies and their contractors the authority to enter private property for maintenance purposes regardless of the existence of an easement or prescriptive rights. Therefore, Xcel Energy and our contractors have the right to access our facilities, as necessary, to properly maintain our facilities.”

Wright Tree is based in Des Moines, Iowa. They are hired by Xcel to perform the work and say they follow the industry’s best practices.

“Wright Tree Service tries to apply the concept of integrated vegetation management, i.e. the right technique, in the right place, at the right time,” their website says. “Wright Tree Service works with their utility customers in developing a proper plan to determine the most effective way to perform line clearance.”

Anyone with questions can contact Xcel at 800-895-4999.