Picture of the lower lake near the entrance to the Zapata Community

REC Power Line Upgrade Proposed

Dangers created by trees and electric power lines

What happens when a tree branch touches a power line?

When any part of a tree is electrified, current passes through the tree’s trunk directly into the ground. This is similar to what happens with a lightning strike; the electricity instantly super-heats moisture in the tree. Steam and boiling sap can erupt from the tree, taking bark, wood, and branches with it. Anything that’s touching the tree and the ground (like a person) will also act as a conductor of that electrical current. Energy will flow through the object or person, with similar outcomes as the tree.

Is it still dangerous if the tree branch isn’t touching the power line?

Yes! If branches are near a power line, electricity can arc from the power line to the tree. This doesn’t typically happen under normal conditions but is possible if there’s a voltage surge on the power line, such as from a nearby lightning strike.

Arcing can cause a fire and the electricity can kill anyone in or near the tree. It’s also possible that a branch will unexpectedly touch the electrical lines, perhaps due to a high wind gust or if while being pruned. Any pruning tools you may be using, such as a long-handled pruning saw or ladder, can accidentally come in contact with uninsulated power lines.

Recently members of the ZHA Board of Directors, Zapata Association members and SLV REC customers got together at the invitation of San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative, Managing Engineer, Terry Daley to discuss their plans to make improvements to the electrical grid that serves the Zapata subdivision.

The objective of these improvements is to reduce the possibility of a fire starting from REC lines, to improve reliability of the grid and mitigate outages due to tree impacts. Historically problematic areas on California Circle; North Zapata Creek between Indian Hill south to Hampton Run were discussed.

Image of tree wire showing construction
REC proposes replacing power lines in the most vulnerable sections of the community with “Tree Wire” which is far less susceptible to igniting a fire if brought down by a falling tree.

The cooperative plans to use insulated “Tree Wire” on existing power pole crossarms. Insulated “Tree Wire” power cable has been found to be effective in minimizing the impact of live wire contact with trees, birds and animals. In addition to “Tree Wire” on North Zapata Creek to maintain in-place lines, SLV REC asked us for advice on potentially problematic access for conducting tree trimming and finding line breaks in that area.

Proposed new short construction ties to complete circuits in our grid will improve reliability during construction, outages and downed tree impacts. The cooperative plans to add a 2nd service line into the subdivision from the Northwest and add “non-expulsion” fuses (a non-standard type of fuse), to further limit areas affected by localized power outages.

SLV REC representatives asked about the possibility of having a small garden-size shed to store extra fuses and other repair materials so that they are right here in the community when needed. Having this option available would be very helpful to repair crews who must often carry a wide range of replacement materials but simply cannot [practically] carry all replacement types in current use throughout the SLV. If any members have a location where such a shed could be located, they would be very interested in speaking with you.

REC Member-Resident Contacts:

Ken McEachern, Chairman 903 486 2728

Jack Zeman, Vice Chairman 719 496 7923

Anna Ciezki, Administrator 719 589 6770

SLV REC Contacts:

Terry Daley, Engineering Manager 719.852.6664 – 970.497.9982 – tdaley@slvrec.com

Kurt Taffin, Staking Engineer 719.852.6667http:// – 719.580.2346 – ktaffin@slvrec.com

Justin Harrison, Staking Engineer 719.852.6654 – 719.298.7127 –

Shawn McKibbon, COO 719.852.6676 – 719.849.8841 – smcKibbon@slvrec

Extended info about power lines and trees