Alberta Municipal Affairs annually compiles a report, Electrical Incidents in Alberta, a resource that details powerline, underground and other electrical incidents. The latest figures show that in 2017 there were 43 reported contacts with overhead lines that involved falling, brushing or trimming trees. (Note: These are reported incidents. Municipal Affairs acknowledges that the actual number is higher). Contact with a powerline has the potential to cause property damage, fire, injury or death.
The Alberta Electrical Utility Code states, “A person must contact the operator of the utility system before activities are undertaken or equipment is operated within 7.0 meters (23 feet) of an energized overhead line.”
There are several reasons why a landowner should not attempt to prune or fell trees that are touching or are in close proximity to overhead powerlines:
- Electricity will always seek the quickest path to ground. This path can be through an object (tree or tool) or a human body by means of direct and indirect contact.
- Direct contact, or touch potential, occurs if you attempt to move a branch or tree trunk that has come in contact with an energized powerline, no matter how brief your contact is. If any vegetation comes in contact with a powerline, back away immediately, shuffling your feet, to a distance of 10 meters (33 feet) and call 9-1-1 immediately if the situation is life-threatening. If the situation is controlled, call your utility company – Battle River Power Coop (1.877.428.3972) – and report the situation and location.
- The ground around a tree in contact with a powerline may be energized thus creating the opportunity for step potential. (Step potential is the step voltage between the feet of a person standing near an energized grounded object and puts the person at risk of injury).
- Please note that even felling trees several meters from a powerline can pose an electrical hazard. It is critical that you assess the tree height and its distance from the line before you start to cut. If there is a chance that the tree or its branches will contact a powerline during felling, it is time to call a professional.
Tree pruning or removal near an overhead powerline is a job for trained Utility Arborists. If you are within Battle River Power Coop’s service area, call the Vegetation Management Department at 1.877.428.3972 for assistance.