Seeing the grid for the trees
by Donica Kaneshiro | June 5, 2021
Trees and power lines share the urban landscape in Honolulu, but when the two meet, safety hazards are created and it affects our ability to deliver electricity reliably to our communities.
Desireé Page, system arborist at Hawaiian Electric, works with the growth habits of each species to find the balance between protecting our property and preserving the urban ecosystem.
“The goal is to prune every tree within our grid, at least once every two years, preferably every 18 months,” she said. “The best case scenario there’s not trees under the lines. But trees are important, and sometimes trees are there first.
“So we try our best to work with the trees’ structure and trees’ growth habits to give the best of both worlds. You know leave as much canopy as we can and simultaneously train the tree in a direction that is going to basically keep it away from the lines.”
To do this, system arborists work with our contractors to encourage trees to follow growing paths that lead them away from our lines.
Trees don’t grow like people where our entire bodies grow, she explains. Trees only expand on the outside ring of their trunk and from the tips of branches.
“So it’s more like if you were to keep putting on T-shirts, like you get bigger but your arms always attached at the same spot,” Desireé said. “If this is where the limb is today, it’s where it always will be unless damage occurs.”
By eliminating branches that are growing toward our lines, the tree will effectively hold that shape, even if it is trimmed in an unconventional way, such as a through prune, in which a V is cut through the center of the tree, to allow branches to grow on either side of the lines.
While many customers are grateful for the work of our arborists, some are unhappy when a tree needs to be trimmed just as it’s about to fruit. Desireé tries to explain to customers that the work not only protects our property but also keep customers safe by keeping fruit and fruit pickers away from electrified lines.
Another challenging situation emerges when trees are planted along roads. According to City and County ordinance, trees must be cut to allow 15 feet of clearance from the ground to allow visibility and passage for drivers. When there are also power lines above the trees that require a minimum clearance of 10 feet, trimming becomes problematic.
“What sometimes can happen is that opposition, sometimes far enough away from the lines cuts down into that 15-foot zone. And what you end up with is coat racks,” Desireé said.
“As arborists, the biggest thing we’d like to promote is the right tree for the right place. If you’re planting trees, plant them away from power lines,” she said.
Desireé said sometimes people are surprised that Hawaiian Electric has professional arborists who are educated in tree anatomy and concerned about the needs of trees.
“Our first and foremost priority is safety and making sure that as stewards of the land, we’re also providing a safe environment for everybody around it,” she said. “We’re all just trying to keep the lights on, you know?”
Although the process and the environment may differ slightly from island to island, tree maintenance remains a big part of our resilience efforts.
For more tips on tree trimming, visit our website, or If you have any questions or concerns regarding tree trimming and inspection, contact us at:
· Oahu: (808) 543–7836 or TrimRequest@hawaiianelectric.com
· Maui County: (808) 871–7777
· Hawaii Island: (808) 969–6666
Donica Kaneshiro is a communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.