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Eversource's main cause of power outages? Trees. The company wants the N.H. public to plant shorter ones.

Bob Allen, an arborist with Eversource, stands next to the company's arboretum
Mara Hoplamazian for NHPR
Bob Allen, an arborist with Eversource, stands next to the company's arboretum

Energy company Eversource is encouraging municipalities and residents to make a plan for their trees.

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With an arboretum in Hooksett now open to the public, the company wants Granite Staters to tour a variety of vegetation that is friendlier to power lines.

For Eversource, trees are the leading cause of power outages, especially during storms. But it’s important to keep planting them, said Bob Allen, an arborist who manages vegetation maintenance efforts at Eversource.

New Hampshire is the second most forested state in the country. The company says it’s planning to spend $27 million across New Hampshire for tree-trimming and removal efforts this year, covering 2,500 of the 12,000 miles of overhead lines it maintains in the state.

Some in Eversource's New England service areas have pushed back on the company’s efforts to cut down trees, saying the removal would create environmental and safety concerns, and harm property values.

Allen wants to introduce residents to the diversity of tree species that can thrive in New Hampshire and encourage people to start planting.

“When you think of New England, you think of maples and oaks and ash and birch. But prior to our generations, we thought of chestnut and elm, and they're both gone basically because of disease, invasive diseases and insects,” he said. “If something comes in and we have a diversity of species, we have a better chance of managing what happens when those trees get affected.”

Invasive species like theemerald ash borer provide an added challenge for Eversource’s efforts to manage the vegetation that might impact power lines. Allen says his vegetation management teams have been working to take down the dead ash trees, especially in Laconia and Loudon.

Visitors to the arboretum can look at examples of trees Eversource says are short enough to safely plant near electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure.

All of the arboretum’s trees are sourced from New Hampshire nurseries, and many are native species. But one tree that usually succeeds in warmer areas — the Chinese fringe tree — is thriving in the arboretum.

“It probably shouldn't be doing as well as it's doing here. And I think it's kind of an indicator of climate change,” Allen said.

A changing climate may call on Granite Staters to diversify their landscaping, he said. As sugar maples and white birches move north, other trees that thrive in warmer climates may begin to thrive in New Hampshire.

The arboretum recently received a Gold Leaf award from the New England Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture. Eversource has three other arboretums — one in Portsmouth, one at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and one in Berlin, Connecticut.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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