PG&E officials will host a community meeting Thursday to address concerns from landowners that a revamped maintenance plan will mean cutting down thousands of trees in a 39-mile stretch of high voltage lines through Sonoma County.
The plan has come under criticism in recent weeks as landowners have discovered in some cases hundreds of trees marked with tell-tale blue paint that PG&E said means the trees are targeted not for pruning, but removal.
PG&E officials said the move is spurred in part by federal regulations that have increased penalties for outages and other incidents. But homeowners called for a meeting to hear why a decades-old strategy of pruning and select removal is seemingly being abandoned.
"PG&E has not really been open and not really been honest, I think, about the plans," said Tom Birdsall, who has owned 41 acres on Sonoma Mountain Road for the past decade.
In that time, PG&E has successfully pruned growth on his property three or four times without issue, Birdsall said.
"It's our belief that the trimming of trees for 50 years has worked just fine," he said.
The 39-mile path stretches from The Geysers to Petaluma. A 2003 blackout blamed on trees that cut power to 50 million people in the Northeast put new focus on hazards that vegetation can pose to the nation's power supply.
In 2007, under a federal mandate, North American Electric Reliability Corp., an organization of the nation's electrical grid operators, came up with more robust standards for utilities.
A focus of Thursday's meeting is to reach "a mutually acceptable way of providing safety and reliability," PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers said.
"As a company, PG&E shares the same appreciation of trees as our customers," she said. "Right now we are really focusing on reaching out to our customers."
Some annual work must be complete by the start of the fire season which typically begins around May 15, while the remaining work is expected to be finished by year's end, Ehlers said.
Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, who owns property in Oakmont where high-power lines stretch across the sky, has introduced AB2556 that he says will prevent PG&E from having "carte blanche" to clearcut trees.
"Initially they said they were doing this in response to federal legislation, but federal legislation did not say you had to clear cut," he said.
"They don't need a black eye on this either," he said. "We are trying to do this cooperatively."
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