What homeowners should know about PG&E’s rights, responsibilities regarding your trees

So, our neighbors will be happy to learn that the tree service is coming Monday to remove a collapse Monterey Pine and its wild tangle of branches and pine needles from our yard Monday.  It will have been a month, the tree is drying out, and we’re all worried about the firestorm that could erupt if someone drops a lit cigarette near the tree.

We’ll pay the $3,200 it will cost to remove the tree. It’s upsetting that we have to come up with the money. There’s no word yet whether the homeowners insurance will cover it.  What’s even more upsetting has been digging through PGE regulations and learning that the utility may, indeed, bear some responsibility for the tree’s collapse. But it will take work, time and money on our part to fight the case.

In my last post, I relied on regulations regarding its Vegetation Management program to raise the question of whether PGE is responsible. As I said, its department is required by state law to maintain clearances around high-voltage power lines.

PG&E doesn’t have to get your permission to remove or prune the tree; it will “make every effort to notify you” after its inspection staff identifies work that needs to be done on your property. The contractor PGE hires to do the work doesn’t need your permission to come on your property to remove the tree, according to the Tree Pruning FAQs page. 

Since I wrote that post, I found more detailed regulations regarding PGE’s vegetation management policy.

This policy is focused on removing trees, rather than pruning them, because removal offers a better likelihood for “safety, service reliability and cost effectiveness.”

Reading this, I wish PGE had removed the tree, rather than just pruning. Its own policies say that “hazard trees” should be removed immediately, and quotes  California Forest Practice Rules, which define a “hazard tree” as one that could damage utility facilities should it fall “where 1) the tree leans … or where 2) the tree is defective because of any cause, such as heart rot, shallow roots, excavation … or any other reason that could result in the tree or a main lateral of the tree falling.”

Neighbors told us the pruning work by PGE’s contractor made the tree appear unstable, and likely to fall into our house, our neighbor’s house, or even into the street above which the power line runs.

An arborist we’ve hired to remove the tree saw it shortly after the pruning work, and believed the job made the tree unstable.

Regulations say “techniques of modern arboriculture” should be used when pruning to direct regrowth away from power lines and minimize adverse effects to tree health. To what extent did PGE’s work adversely affect the tree’s health and put our homes and its own transmission lines at risk?

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