MOUNT PLEASANT - South Carolina Electric & Gas officials say their decision to trim trees from power lines every five years - instead of every seven years - is paying off with fewer outages during storms.

SCE&G Tree trimming

Next year, the utility plans to prune trees in these general areas:

* Mount Pleasant - Rifle Range Road from Bowman Road to Ben Sawyer Boulevard; Chuck Dawley Boulevard from Coleman Boulevard to Highway 17; Ben Sawyer from the Ben Sawyer Bridge to Chuck Dawley; and the Old Village area in the vicinity of McCants Drive and Center Street

* The Isle of Palms

* Sullivan's Island

* Adams Run, Hollywood, Ravenel and Meggett

* James Island, northern parts including Riverland Drive, Maybank Highway, Folly Road to Camp Road; Camp Road from Folly Road to Riverland Drive, and Harborview Road from Folly Road to Old Plantation Road.

* Downtown Charleston - Ansonborough, French Quarter, Mazyck Wraggborough, East Side, Meeting Street Manor, Cooper River Court and the edge of Cannonborough/Elliotborough east of King Street

* North Charleston - Rivers Avenue in the Northwoods Mall, Acabee areas

* Hanahan - toward Rivers Avenue

The new schedule, which started to take effect eight years ago, also has reduced the visual impact of such work, because the limbs removed are smaller. The change didn't affect how far back crews prune limbs, only how many years of growth are removed.

Still, the utility knows this necessary work can create plenty of public outcry.

That's why its officials recently dropped by a Town Council Committee last week to outline their plans for trimming trees along 42 miles of roads early next year.

Tammy Cogdill of SCE&G said the utility not only notifies property owners in advance of its tree trimming, but "we've also begun reaching out ahead of that with community engagement programs. The citizens have a chance to meet, talk to and get contact information from the folks actually doing the trimming."

Town Administrator Eric DeMoura called the utility "a very good corporate partner," but also noted that its tree pruning can be a controversial issue.

Councilman Chris Nickels agreed and said people can get defensive about particular trees. He asked the utility to keep the town and residents updated on its plans. "The pain will be much less than if it just happens," he said.

SCE&G spokeswoman Kim Asbill said one of the utility's biggest challenges is balancing the public's desire for beautiful trees against its responsibility to have a reliable power grid. High winds and the resulting limb breakage is a leading cause of power loss.

Last year, SCE&G customers - from Aiken to Columbia to Beaufort and Charleston - averaged a total of 98 minutes without power for the year.

That's down nearly 45 percent from what they experienced 10 years earlier - 176 minutes on average in 2002 - and compares favorably with other utilities in this part of the country, she said, adding that's partly because of the new trimming schedule.

Asbill said this year was the first that SCE&G had switched entirely to a five-year trimming cycle across its service territory.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.