Charleston-area residents have inundated local governments and South Carolina Electric & Gas with complaints about excessive tree trimming by the utility company. It's gotten the state's attention.
The Public Service Commission — the government body that oversees utilities in South Carolina — unanimously passed a motion Wednesday for SCE&G to appear to discuss "tree trimming and potential alternatives."
A date for the briefing has not been announced but Commissioner John Howard said in his motion he wants the utility to meet with the group "as soon as the calendar allows."
The most recent complaints about trimming started with the West Ashley neighborhoods of Byrnes Downs and Old Windermere. The state's call for SCE&G to appear before the PSC represents another page in a nearly two-month-long debate between the utility and residents.
A report by the city of Charleston found that nine of 74 grand trees trimmed in the West Ashley neighborhoods this month were not compliant with industry standards for pruning. Many were labeled as “ugly and misshapen."
Charleston recommended the utility decrease the required distances between foliage and power lines to ease customer tensions with SCE&G and to stop a “deformed, mangled appearance” of the grand trees.
Charleston previously had a tree agreement with SCE&G but it expired nearly 30 years ago. Until a new agreement is reached based on findings in Charleston's report, the city has asked the utility to halt pruning within the city limits.
Thomas Rode, the attorney who represents the Old Windermere neighborhood and brought the expired tree agreement to the city's attention, said it is unclear what the Public Service Commission is asking about. Nevertheless, he's encouraged.
"Hopefully their involvement will promote greater transparency from SCE&G in this process," Rode said.
SCE&G spokesman Paul Fischer said the utility welcomed the opportunity to talk with the commission and said operating "in a safe, efficient, and reliable manner remains our top priority."
Several years ago, the utility went from trimming every seven years to every five years so less would need to be trimmed at any given time. Since then, numerous complaints from impassioned residents have been fielded by the utility and the city.
Complaints against the utility also have come from around the tri-county area, including Mount Pleasant and Riverland Terrace on James Island.
Gerry Naumann, who lives near Riverland Terrace, saw her oak tree heavily pruned and eventually cut down by the utility several years ago. She was pleased to hear the state was interested in SCE&G's trimming.
"I feel they should quit cutting and make a decision that is fruitful for everyone," Nauman said. "Someone from a higher level needs to step in and have some control."