What is a right-of-way?

A right-of-way (ROW) refers to a strip of land underneath or around power lines that your electric cooperative maintains and clears. Trees should be maintained at a distance far enough from conductors where they will not cause harm to individuals, or disruption to electrical service.

Why is clearing important?

Clearing trees can be inconvenient for our members. However, the work that we do to keep lines clear of vegetation is vital to provide safe, reliable power to our members. 15 percent of power interruptions occur when trees, shrubs, or bushes grow too close to power lines. By managing vegetation, your electric cooperative keeps power safe and reliable.

Our dedicated vegetation management crews work to reduce outages caused by trees and reduce line loss. Every tree that grows too close to lines is a source of loss, and that means wasted energy. Our crews have been working not only on vegetation management across our service territory but also during outages when tree damage needs to be cleared to make repairs to any damaged infrastructure.

By maintaining a comprehensive, regular tree-trimming program, Sumter EMC can reduce these safety concerns, and service interruptions.

Managing our system

Trees can not only cause service disruptions or outages, but they can also interfere with restoring power. Vegetation can make it difficult to find the source of an outage or reach the source.

Other Rights-of-Way

Sumter EMC’s overhead lines aren’t the only thing affected by errant planting. We also need a clear space around underground transformers, pole bottoms, and meters.

For instance, when crews must repair or inspect underground cable or equipment, Sumter EMC Lineman will have to open equipment that look like big green boxes on your property. If a homeowner plants shrubs too close, they’ll be cut.

This doesn’t happen because we do not care about your property. Inside that green box, or transformer, our line technicians deal with several thousand volts of electricity right at their fingertips.  For our lineman to safely operate the equipment a clear distance must be maintained around the electrical equipment.

Poles are routinely inspected and treated for rot prevention at ground level. If plants are in the way, they’ll also be removed.

Three-Step Process

Keeping Sumter EMC’s rights-of-way clear and accessible occurs in three stages:

  1. Limbs and trees that pose a threat to overhead lines are trimmed or removed.
  2. The ground beneath the lines is cut with a rotary mower if necessary.
  3. Remaining vegetation and stumps are treated to inhibit growth.

Clean Power Lines Benefit You

Cooperating with Sumter EMC in maintaining clear power line rights of way provides these advantages:

  • Lower cost
  • Fewer annoying blinks and surges
  • Fewer power outages
  • Quicker restoration if the lights go out

Member Responsibilities

Members do have a few responsibilities when it comes to vegetation management on their property.


Members are asked to call the cooperative if they observe a problem along the lines. We rely on our members to help identify problem areas.

Providing Access

We work with members as much as we can when it comes to logistics, and planning tree work. However, it is important for all members to update and maintain contact information.

Keeping plant growth, a reasonable distance from our lines keeps your electric service reliable. Limbs brushing up against our lines can cause blinks and temporary outages. A blink can cause havoc with your computer system and possibly cause the loss of valuable and expensive data.

If limbs that overhang our lines are properly managed, you’re also less likely to have a prolonged outage when storms come to call. The major cause of a storm related outage is when stormy conditions break limbs that bring our lines crashing down.

But the most important reason to keep trees trimmed away from power lines is safety. No one wants a tree close enough to a power line that would allow a playful child to climb up and be in danger.

You’re likely to experience power quality problems and longer than necessary storm-related outages. It takes three to four times longer to restore your power if our crews must work around untrimmed or topped trees. Also, trees or limbs that fall on your property can affect your neighbors’ electric service. And you could be held liable if a child in a tree on your property contacts a power line.

Sumter EMC follows a five-year plan. That is, we try to reach every line on our system within five years; then we start again. Sumter EMC maintains 3,835 miles of lines.

Typically, Sumter EMC has right-of-way 15 feet either side of our line. This right-of-way also gives us a path to maintain or repair the co-op’s lines. If you think about it, 15 feet is not much room to maneuver a 60-foot bucket truck or other large equipment if we must do major line repair.

We cooperate with landowners and homeowners in determining just how much trimming is necessary in the co-op’s right-of-way. If our line is there, the co-op has a legal right to trim it.

If our line runs along a road or highway, the road right-of-way and power line right-of-way probably cover different areas.   

If a tree threatens your service wire, we’ll be glad to disconnect it while tree surgeons remove the tree.

They’re chipped and later used as recycled mulch. Some of our crews can pick up and haul away the debris that is cut. Other crews are separated into two teams: the first team cuts and the second team follows to handle the cleanup as soon as possible.

If debris remains in your yard longer than three business days, please call Sumter EMC at (229) 924-8041 to report this.

Sumter EMC contracts with experienced companies to do its right-of-way maintenance. Hiring contract crews saves money; that keeps rates down. The right-of-way contract is re-bid every year, making sure we get the most competitive pricing.

These contact crews are highly skilled, properly equipped and under the supervision of specialized Sumter EMC employees whose sole responsibility is the maintenance of the co-op’s right-of-way.

Sorry, but Sumter EMC doesn’t offer a tree trimming service for the public. Liability concerns prevent us from trimming trees not on the power line right-of-way or not interfering with the electrical distribution system.

Just as our overhead lines need clearance, so do our underground facilities. Keep shrubs at least ten feet from the sides and backs of our underground transformers; don’t plant anything directly in front. It hampers the productivity of our crews if they must first trim shrubs to gain access to our equipment. It also wastes your money to plant nice shrubs just to have them cut down when we’re restoring your power.


Plant Trees Safely